Untarnished, by Karla Merrifield

Karla Merrifield
UNTARNISHED

She knows full-well about the forty-
three seconds of separation
between hero and the he’s-only-

human fireman who stopped
to phone home honey and child,
to the wife on route to the Twin

Towers. She’s measured the forty-
three seconds of distance
between fact and fiction, the over-

loaded length of his last cellular
call with the sirens of the hook and ladder
silenced one mile due north of Ground

Zero. She’s still carrying the forty-fuckin’-
three-second weight of omission
or suppression or deletion. Pick one.

No dereliction-of-duty business, girly?
The guy paid the big price, right? Change
the clock compassionately for NYFD’s sake. It’s 9/

11, Legends cannot afford the detail.

Author’s Comment: “Untarnished” is based on a true story of a reporter who covered 9/11, during which she uncovered the fact that one responding fire truck stopped on route to the Twin Towers — they willfully delayed their arrival against protocol and the urgent situation to selfishly, some would say, call their loved ones. The reporter decided not to blow their cover in her stories of the tragic event she witnessed firsthand. Today, she’s still agonizing about that judgment call, one that went against journalism ethics but arose out of compassion. Thus she helped preserve intact those firefighters’ reputation as stainless heroes.

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3 thoughts on “Untarnished, by Karla Merrifield

  1. The poem really shows how such a short time, less than a moment, can change the course of so many lives. Well written and powerful poem.

  2. Powerful, painful, empathetic, and Ironic–especially the last. What difference would that tiny time make on that day? None to any but those who took it–the time, I mean. Terrific poem.

  3. Only after the fact do I see that if the firefighters had not delayed, they would have simply added to the body count. The poem definitely makes a person think about the tag of “hero.”

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