Poetry Friday: The Math of Tragedy

In my work for the MSU Extension Service, I’m connected with communicators all over the U.S. A friend shared this editorial about the response to the terrible wildfires that recently devastated four Western states. For background, consider the NY Times piece here. I personally know one family in Texas that has worked to collect local donations, and the husband/father has spent days away from home helping strangers rebuild fence. 4-H’ers in some places have adopted orphan calves.

These stories then reminded me of another friend who had innocently misinterpreted the social media videos showing truck after truck of donated hay as an example of “big scale farming in the U.S.” I don’t think she meant it pejoratively, but many would. And that saddens me a bit.

My intention is not to get into a debate about American farming in 2017, but to say my job allows me to I see the positive impact of a lot of hardworking people who dedicate their lives to providing the food, fiber, and fuel used around the world. I saw in this editorial an opportunity for a found poem, which is a form I’ve not tried before. I found the winnowing of words a challenging exercise!

Photo credit: Kansas Emergency Management via KTLA: http://ktla.com/2017/03/09/thousands-of-cattle-lost-in-kansas-wildfires/

The Math of Tragedy
by Keri Collins Lewis

A found poem
Based on an editorial:
“Outpouring of American Generosity Douses Horrifying Aftermath of Midwestern Wildfires”
By Blake Hurst, a Missouri farmer & president of the Missouri Farm Bureau

forty, fifty feet high,
80 to 90 miles an hour.
seared millions of acres across
Kansas + Oklahoma + Colorado + Texas.

Memories haunt generations.
A lifetime of work, some farmers lost
100 miles of fence [each]
replaced at a cost of $10,000 per mile.
Not covered by insurance.

Seven people killed, trapped.
One family survived:
A large wheat field,
the green wheat serving as a fire break.
They watched their ranch die.

An inferno on the plains.
A wall of flames traveling at interstate speeds.
We humans endure in the face of tragedy.


The Poetry Friday round-up is at Dori Reads. Thanks, Dori!!

Author: Keri

14 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: The Math of Tragedy

  1. Your found poem really “speaks”!
    I hope you don’t mind, but I “found” a haiku in your poem today:
    Flames high, wildfire seared
memories haunt generations,
a lifetime lost

    1. What a treat, Donna! I’m delighted you found another poem! (Reminds me of that old saying, “If I’d had more time I would have written a shorter letter!”)

  2. I think your point about someone jumping to conclusions based on social media is an all-too common experience these days. We’re surrounded by so much information that’s presented so quickly that there’s often little time to process what we’re seeing. In a world that moves so quickly, we’ve started to move too quickly too, at times, and that can lead to misinterpretations and incorrect assumptions. Everything is more complex than it might appear on TV or online, including the economy or the state of farming, and for all the big companies or big names involved, there are always just normal people trying to live their lives caught up in it all, too!

    1. You are right, and it’s so unfortunate that the rush to get the “scoop” often violates the rules of due diligence — at least in the media it seems so (and I speak as someone who works with the media!).

  3. Well done. I like how you pulled out the math.

    I grew up in “Flyover Country,” though I never heard it called that. I’m used to all the assumptions, but I also know first-hand the generosity of the Flown Overs.

  4. Waiting until you have all the facts and have thought things through is becoming rare. I guess that make it even more precious, as you poem is. I like how you’ve used math to make it understandable, to quantify it, yet to take a step back and not get lost in the story.

    1. Thank you, Brenda! Our brains (and hearts) were not meant to cope with all the bad news of the planet all day every day! We have to step back!

  5. Beautiful found poetry that captures the devastation wildfires can bring and the sense of loss from losing not just your livelihood but your life. My husband has his red card to fight forest fires and usually heads out west on a crew each summer, though he did not go to these fires.

    1. A powerful found poem, Keri. Such a tragedy, but always behind the tragedy there are those who faithfully love, rebuild, offer solace. Thanks for sharing.

    2. I’m glad you got to keep him at home — what a hard job that would be, both the fighting of the fires and the waiting at home!

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