A Voice for the Innocent Bystanders
To the House of Collateral Damage: Centuries of Civilian Dead.|
William La Riche.
Seven Stories Press, 2008.
128 pages, $17.95 (paperback).
World War II did not
into monsters. The monster
is always there
in each of us.
We somewhere find,
we have committed
and hushed up.
("Where the Monster has his Residence")
William La Riche's multi-part, book-length poem To The House of Collateral Damage tours humanity's bloody history, moving back and forth across the past to create a collage of woe-filled remembrance. The poem directly addresses Thomas Pfeffer, child of a German-Jewish refugee and a Dutch-Jewish woman who was only seven years old when he was gassed at Auschwitz. In attempting to explain this unexplainable act to young Thomas, La Riche recounts the acts of violence peoples and nations have committed against each other, from the Inquisition and the Trail of Tears through World War II to the Armenian genocide, Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and September 11th.
Often focusing on small acts of courage or defiance and the individuals caught in the midst of these larger conflicts, To The House of Collateral Damage attempts to make readers see the real people shrouded behind the accumulated numbers of dead these wars generated, to help us "make / the leap of empathy / into the suffering of each / other." Because LaRiche recounts events across time and continents, a historical time line or glossary explaining some of the names and events mentioned in the poem would be helpful to less informed readers. While the poem can be prosaic at times, almost like an extended essay turned into verse, LaRiche's drive and passion for those usually ignored who have been trapped by global violence makes To The House of Collateral Damage a haunting and compelling work.