Can Your Heart Break For Someone You Don’t Know?

Can your heart break for someone you don’t know?


Every morning I read the news –

every night, I tell myself, not to do it again –

every story sends spikes down my spine,

like I’m frozen to the screen,

like a crash you slow down for on the highway

eyes peeled for the carnage

desperate to see whole bodies

being pulled from their crumpled cars.


Somehow, I came to carry their dreams on my shoulders

despite my best intentions not to.

Children gunned down. starving. drowning.

I see bodies

once whole, full of grins,

giggles, knock-knock jokes, bouncy-energy –

bodies under bloody sheets

in Pakistan

in Gaza

in Connecticut

in Chicago

in St. Louis

and their faces are familiar.

that girl in the front row of my first period –

that boy running late to his seat after lunch –


Can your heart break for someone you don’t know?


And I read about the children

and I mourn for them every day over my two cups of coffee

necessary to jolt me out of my dreams,

my prayers,

my hopes for them

into the jagged reality of their lives.


Already, by first period, my heart is broken.

Is it no wonder that I sometimes lock my classroom door from the outside?

or hide in the teacher’s lounge after school?

or wave them away with a vacant and vague “I’m too busy today”?


Despite my best intentions not to,

not to open my heart to their hopes,

not to throw wide my classroom door to their dreams — 

when my locked door looks like that prison pipeline

I see their faces asking at the window

let us in let us in

let us share a few moments of your time

let us burden you with our burdens.


His mother told me, “He saw his older sister try and kill herself.”

Her father told me “She has no one to talk to.”

His mother told me “The police took his father away.”

Her mother told me “She is in the hospital with two slashed wrists.”


Can your heart break for someone you don’t know

When it is already so broken from the someones you do?


I hold their dreams in my pockets

like smooth pebbles

rubbed round by loving fingers

turned soft from tender touches

solid, reminding stones

weighing on my hips like ammunition


warning the world:

my heart is already broken

but if you break them, if you even try,

I will break you.


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