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Advice to the Photographers of Atrocities by Judith McCombs

Advice to the Photographers of Atrocities

by Judith McCombs

(published in The Anthology of Women Poets, 1973, edited by Pamela Victorine,

Dremen Press; originally published in The Carolina Quarterly)


There is a problem of number.

You must not show us

A fieldful of victims

They will look like clothing,

Or abandoned wreckage,

We will not react.

Too many bodies

Are cordwood, numerals

Irrelevant similes.


There is a problem of distance.

In the far, clean air

Overkill has its beauty,

Symmetry, skill—

The jungle blossoming

With globular fire—

Stay with us humans,

Under the leaves.


There is a problem of hope.

Show us the children

Fording the river,

They have a sister

To carry the baby,

They may escape

If the bombers are late;

Or the suspect, still sitting,

Able to watch

The torturer’s incisions;

Or better, the obedient children,

Standing together,

Eyes on the floor,

Watching what is done to their mother,

It is called interrogation,

Not many survive.


Give us the appearance of hope

If you would teach us to see

What is done in our name.




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