Saving the Children

Saving the Children


Every day they were trapped, we checked in
with the nightly news to hear how
the Wild Boars were doing. A boot camp
had been set up at the mouth of the cave
after two divers discovered the boys
and their coach perched on a rocky ledge,
licking the walls for water, edging away
from the questioning sweep of the camera
as if afraid of exposure to the light
of the divers’ flashlights, then bowing
in gratitude, their thin limbs,
reminiscent of children in newsreels
from the liberated camps.
We listened for updates:
volunteers pouring in—an Aussie doctor
stayed with them, checking their hearts,
their lungs, the ambient oxygen; a Danish
spelunker cut short his vacation to map
the underground labyrinth; a billionaire
built a mini submarine to float them out
of the narrow birth-canal-type tunnels;
ministers offered prayers, rescuers their lives
(one taken in earnest)—everyone working
together to get the Wild Boars out
before the rains fell and the waters rose.
But before we could switch
channels and savor the jubilation
of watching them saved from the worst
that could happen, trotted out of the cave,
wrapped in tin foil like baked potatoes
and rushed under golf umbrellas
to the thunderous sound of a downpour
of clapping into the waiting helicopters,
their mothers, aunties, grandmothers already
readying the meals the boys had requested—
fried rice with crispy pork, spicy chicken—
we heard the crying
of children ushered into chain-link
enclosures, calling for their mothers,
their fathers, the wrenching look
of a toddler glancing up at the face
of a stranger speaking a language
she didn’t understand—
And we didn’t understand
how this could happen: on the one hand,
saving the children, on the other hand,
wresting them from their parents,
as if we live in a zero sum world
where something has to be taken away
if something is put back together,
happiness being the give of a rope
that goes taut somewhere else—
where a body hangs limp
from the branch where the lynch mob
has strung it.
It must be the fault
of such cruel mathematics, for how
else to understand this strange
disconnect, as if a part of us
we didn’t know we had lost
in the fear-filled caverns of the heart—
the selves we discovered we could be
when we saved the Wild Boars—
were calling to us in the voices
of terrified toddlers,
in danger of being drowned out,
as the waters keep rising.

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