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South Carolina State College
Orangeburg, South Carolina, 1968
Tlatelolco Square, Mexico City, 1968
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1989
Nothing forced those kids
to go out there.
Nothing made them insist on
their foolish demands.

Those kids believed in nothing.
They respected nothing,
you could see that by the way
they behaved.
Nothing mattered to them
once they got excited.
When we were young, nothing
like this
could have happened.
We knew nothing was worth
this much trouble.
Nothing told them to go home
before it was too late.
Nothing scolded them
for the foolish children
they were. Nothing warned them
of the serious consequences.
Nothing said: This is not
a carnival or celebration,
but a serious threat to the state.
Nothing proceeded
exactly according
to the rules.
The police arrived.
They followed orders
Nothing was left
to chance.
Nothing had been
by our rulers
down to the last
numbered hair
on the protestors’
down to the last
sparrow’s feather.
Nothing took place
that shouldn’t have.
Nothing went wrong.
Nothing could have prepared
us for what happened next.
It could have, but
it didn’t. Nothing
like it had been seen before.
But not by us.
We were surprised and shocked
by all the blood. Nothing
could have surprised us more.
Nothing was seen of them again.
Nothing was heard of them.
Nothing was mentioned
in the press.
By dawn
of the next day
the authorities had already
scrubbed the streets,
painted over the graffiti,
and removed the posters.
Nothing came of their demands.
Their sacrifice changed
nothing. Nothing
was the same afterward.
Nothing went on as usual.
Nothing was different
than it had ever been.
It’s easy enough, after
it’s over, to demand:
Why didn’t you do
If you had been there
you would have seen
nothing could have
prevented it. Nothing
could have stepped in
and stopped it.
Nothing had the power
to halt it right there.
So we waited for nothing.
And nothing arrived
in the nick of time.
Nothing kept the bullets
back. Nothing stood
like a wall between
the rifles
and their human targets.
Nothing saved them.
Darkness of human
hearts. Only
following orders.
Caught up
in the moment’s
A small, necessary
wrong for a higher
Are these
excuses or explanations?
They tell us nothing.
Nothing is the key
to this brutal mystery.
Nothing can explain
what happened here.
Nothing has the power
to get inside their
motives, what drove
them to do such things.
Nothing will tell us
how they justified
to themselves
the shed blood.
Nothing has seen
such shuffling
of masks before:
the mask of regret
replacing the mask
of rage.
has seen such behavior
since time began.
Nothing will tell us
how they sleep
soundly at night
while others do not
sleep at all, and
others sleep forever.
Nothing was further
from the truth.
Not a lot further.
Maybe the distance
of those bodies
laid end to end.
The incident was nothing
to speak of.