Richmond Explodes

I shouldn’t have known
the things I did before
when mother wasn’t looking
and father doing his chores.
Chores, chores, work away
Mr. station wagon man –
stacking limbs and eyeballs
and feet and hands –
stuff them in – if you can –
“Not discreet, not discreet!”
cried the paper man – who
didn’t know his own toes
were on fire – smoking –
smoking – dying on his own
time…  Fading away from
a day – just a day – any
day when feet and hands
and golf balls fall from the sky…
“Not discreet to leave them in the street!”
as the paperman hacked his own words away,
his soul chasing after…
Station wagon blue, station wagon blue,
what to do? what to do?
with arms and legs from gunpowder kegs?
To the morgue, station wagon man,
We’ll sort them out later.
Later, later, I touched Tammy
Newton’s boob in old station wagon blue.
It was still attached.  She
said she liked it.  She didn’t know
her grandmother’s arm had been there
before mine.  But father did.
I shouldn’t have known
the things I did before.

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© 2015 John Allen Richter
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********* Gladly offered to the fine poets at dversepoets.com

Poet’s Notes about The Poem

At 1: 47 p.m., early afternoon on a cool sunny day, beautiful Saturday, April 6th,1968, four linear blocks of the downtown area of my hometown, Richmond, Indiana, exploded violently. I was 9 years old. There were hundreds of people downtown at the time. My father and godfather were headed downtown also in dad’s 1965 White Ford Country Squire station wagon with blue interior. But they were still six or seven blocks away when the explosion occurred. Dad said he felt his car slide sideways about 10 feet by the blast. Dad drove to the melee just as the fire trucks were arriving. They commandeered both he and his station wagon to carry the wounded to the hospital. Most of the four block main street was a complete crater, caused by an underground gas pipe exploding. A secondary explosion occurred at Martin Arms, a gun and sports store that kept several barrels of gunpowder in their basement. Forty one people were killed. Most of the wounded were ambulatory, I think, so dad’s car became a repository for body parts to be later identified at the morgue.

That’s the same station wagon we seven kids would ride in during our biweekly trips to grandparents in Indianapolis. There was a girl in this story but her name was not ‘Tammy.’ I changed it to protect her innocence. And I don’t remember if the ‘boob’ incident was before or after the explosion, but think probably before. I was only seven at that time if I remember correctly. She was a close friend of sister Sue and often ‘slept over’ at our home. One day as she walked past my bedroom she saw me sleeping in only my tighty-whities – which is pretty much how I still sleep today. But she teased me about it incessantly and I just hated that! It seemed so embarrassing. I didn’t want a girl seeing me in my underwear! So one time she came with us on our trip to Indianapolis. After a long visit she and Sue declared that they would sleep in the back of the station wagon on the way home – which is where we little ones were stationed. So here was my chance! After the four others in the back had all fallen asleep – in the dark night listening to the hum of the tires on the pavement – I moved toward ‘Tammy’ and slid my hand and arm very slowly up her shirt. I thought that if I could squeeze her breast and wake her up then she would be embarrassed and never tease me again. Unfortunately after i moved my arm and hand over her soft, smooth, warm skin and tummy, and cupped her breast in my hand, something came over me and suddenly I decided not to go through with it. I didn’t understand it at the time, of course, i was only seven, but I knew enough that I would never want to embarrass, or hurt anyone who made me feel like I just felt that dark night in the back of that wagon. Weeks later she teased me again and I just blurted it out: ‘I squeezed your boob when we went to Indianapolis! ‘ She didn’t look shocked at all. In fact she put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘I know. That was nice.’ She never teased me again. Women. After all these years i still don’t understand them. And I don’t think she lost any relatives in the explosion. She remains just one of the many women I have come to love during my trek through this life. If you ever read this, ‘Tammy, ‘ wherever you are now, I thought it was nice too. Thank you for visiting.

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About johnallenrichter

I am an aspiring Poet and adorer of life, a conqueror of nothing. However I am a champion curator of truth and friendship and hold both of those things most dearly to my heart. Welcome to my mind's eye. I hope you will enjoy what you may find and please know that you have a friend here. View all posts by johnallenrichter

30 responses to “Richmond Explodes

  • willowdot21

    This is brilliantly disturbing!!

  • brian miller

    ha. i know….i enjoyed the story behind the poem as much as the poem….though my how traumatic it must have been for a kid to go through such explosion and to know your station wagon transported the bodies as well….

    • johnallenrichter

      Hi Brian… no, actually I don’t ever remember seeing any blood in the back of that wagon – nor looking for any. To an 8 or 9 year old – whose sole existence is in a little town of 40,000 – when something like this happens it affects everyone in your own little world – so it is universal – at least to the kid. You assume everyone else you know experienced the same thing. We built a beautiful downtown promenade as a memorial to those killed, As a teenager I worked in one of the stores down there. My sister Linda was actually working at First National Bank downtown that morning, but was let go early because of a strong gas smell in the bank. for a few hours we thought we had lost her, but found out later she had spent the afternoon at a friends house. I think the communal conversation and empathy helped us all to resolve the issue. It was an accident, not an intentional thing like 9-11. Thanks for stopping by…. It’s always fun to hear from you… Your poem today about the talent show was absolutely fantastic!

  • Gabriella

    This sounds like a story out of a film, John. It still seems very vivd in your memory.

  • Mary

    Oh my, John, that is quite a poem & also quite a story. I know this is one that will live in your mind forever. What a tragedy! I appreciated your thorough explanation and your heartfelt thoughts about “Tammy.”

  • billgncs

    Wow John – this is strong and rich with emotion

  • Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    What a story.. and that Station wagon so filled with memories. This is worth a book, memories like this, and the “Tammy” experience was so well described. I love the repetitive lines too.

    • johnallenrichter

      Hello Björn! Thanks for visiting and I agree, Tammy certainly steals the show for me. All of my life I have indubitably loved boobies – which in America of course makes me a wretched letch. I prefer to call it honesty though, Benny Hill style…

  • scotthastiepoet

    Terrific writing John – you have a fresh and original voice that packs a real punch… With Best Wishes Scott http://www.scotthastie.com

  • claudia

    oh heck… what a story…and the intensity is felt throughout the poem

  • Grace

    The background notes helped me frame the horrifying incident ~ What a sight it must be to see the whole crater blasted out ~

    And I had to smile at your recollection of Tammy ~ Childhood teasing is part & parcel of growing up ~ Thanks for sharing & wishing you good week ~

    • johnallenrichter

      Hello Sweet Grace… Such a pleasure to hear from you again and to read your sweet poem. As always lovely. Yes, teasing is something I became accustomed to with one older brother and five sisters! As you can probably see with my diabolical plan with Tammy – I was pretty good at returning the melee. Unfortunately my hormones kicked in and suddenly made me realize that Tammy was not of “sister-class,” my very first conscious awareness of a feeling discreetly different than anything sisters ever made me feel… 🙂

  • Misky

    this reads like a list-form poem, with an incredible back story!!

    • johnallenrichter

      Thank you for visiting and also your thoughts. And you are reading my mind! I prefer to call this double-entendre, but list form is its synonym. You and Willow both get a gold star! Without the end-story it was my intention for it to be exactly how Willow coined it – disturbing! The entendre comes when it becomes more about the emotions of a little boy after reading the story.

  • Trudedssa

    I am not sure which is more intriguing the story or the poem. This is filled with darkness and the pains of growing up. It draws the reader in very quickly with the image of the blue station wagon.

  • Ginny Brannan (@GinnyBrannan)

    Wow, that is really an intense story. How scary. Amazing how strong those memories are for you to this day. I loved the side story of “Tammy.” Two events remembered through that old station wagon. Before seat belts…all of us kids wanted to sit in the “way back!” Excellent write, thank you for sharing!

    • johnallenrichter

      Haha! You remember the days before seat belts too! Isn’t it wonderful how quaint these little memories can be? I’ve been lucky and blessed with a great memory of childhood. It’s not like photographic because I can also remember sounds and smells. In fact I can tell you exactly where I was and what I saw and felt when the explosion happened. Odd that brother Mike is the exact opposite. He’s had a couple of trauma’s in his life that cause him to block things out. He and a friend ran all the way downtown to see what had happened after the explosion and we saw the plume rising in the sky. I tried to stop them but they didn’t listen. When he came back he was white as a ghost and was trembling. I asked him what happened and he only told me that a fireman had thrown him into a big crater and told him to stay there. He refused to tell me what he saw, but did say that it scared him so bad that he ran all the way home, not knowing what happened to his friend. He has never talked about it again.

  • Kenn Merchant

    The world is full of so many accidents, and it is sad that people must endure such plight. Although there is much to learn from it. All we can do is make lemonade out of lemons right?

    • johnallenrichter

      Forging on is what life is all about Kenn, I agree. I was born just a few short years after Hitler killed himself, watched children strapped with bombs kill soldiers in Viet Nam on the nightly news, and now have endured these terrorists flailing and killing whenever they can. One thing I’m certain of is free will. And I thank God that I am part of a nation that chooses to fight against such atrocities rather than join them. I am certain that I am an old soul – because carnage doesn’t bother me – I think it has been a part of life almost as long as there has been life. The parable of Cain and Abel have taught me that. The three things that bother me the most are knowing that good people are killed by hateful people, people that I know personally are harmed by hateful people, – whether killed, maimed, or robbed – and that I am mostly ineffectual in stopping such heinousness., But as you say we forge on and do what we can.

  • sonniq

    Wonderful writing. Now you are going to think me really odd. In the second paragraph of your back story I see the profile of a man looking up and to the left created by the white spaces. I had to so and look again before I read it and went back after to see if it is still there. You have to look at it in a certain way but I saw it right off. Strange if you never noticed. I could even outline it.

    • johnallenrichter

      Hi and thank you for stopping by… It means a lot to hear opinions of other artists. No, I must tell you that I didn’t notice an image in the white spaces. But that’s not to say it isn’t there. Perceptions come to us in many different forms and I have never been one to poo-poo the idea of spirits or spirituality. In fact my experiences tend to favor the notion. A lot of people died that day – or had loved ones taken away. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if one were to work himself into my pages.

      The broader issue I had when writing this poem was “Will it honor those people who died so tragically?” That’s one of the things that is always on my mind as I carry on in life. Like everyone else I’ve lost family members, friends and lovers to that ever-present creature we all have come to know as death. And so I constantly wonder if the way that my own life is conducted honors them or their memories. I believe it does fall upon us to honor the goodness – and the love that others shared while alive and who passed before us.

      I don’t know if I achieved that, though, with a story of a surviving little boy relaying his early understanding and feelings of the intimacy and intricacy of sexuality. On the front it would seem not. But underneath the layers it shows that each one of those people were human, living the life that each one of has been born into separately. They went through the same real emotions that we all have. I look at is as a connect, the same way we think of Christ – human – just like us. With out that connection nothing that He, or they, ever did could relate to us as human. And in that way I think this story does honor those poor people who died that day. Or in the very least I hope that they would not be offended by the story of a surviving little boy.

      Thanks again… John

      • sonniq

        Thank you for that wonderful reply. Please read this before you approve it. You may not want to. I tend to write long replies. Sometimes I turn them into posts. I’m going to print your post out and draw the face I see. It’s the first thing I saw when I started to read the second paragraph. I tried to see if I could figure out if I could explain the words where I saw. I went back several times and studied it.

        On a different note – the passing on of people – the goodness in them – why it matters what kind of life we lead and what it means to me. We do have many people on this earth who don’t care what kind of life they lead. Many people with faith in different religions and philosophies and many with none. I have heard people say, if all you had to do was ask God’s forgiveness to get into heaven then what does it matter what you do now? You could just ask for forgiveness for whatever you do.

        I think most faiths came from one and were changed as they spread throughout the world depending on their culture, their capacity to understand, and how that faith can be manipulated by the leaders. You can see that all throughout history. People have always strived to understand their lives and why they are here and what being alive really means. I see a common thread thread through them. People want to be happy. They want their families to be happy (at least most do) I don’t put down any religion and say I’m right and you are wrong. Everyone has the choice to make sense of their lives any way they choose. This is what I think for me. ( long explanation for what I wanted to say)

        The only legacy we have to leave behind when we die is the effect we have had on other people. That is what carries our life forward into future generations. Money doesn’t matter. Our great grandmother’s china we leave in our will doesn’t matter, but was our presence in their life a positive one? Did they learn something from us they could teach someone else that helps them with their own life?

        What people perceive to be the truth, and completely believe that to be the truth, is usually what they were taught in the community they were raised. When people are told something over and over as children – one example – the nighttime prayer I said every night, “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” we are taught there is a father figure somewhere up there in the heavens who loves us and watches over us, and when we die we can go live with him in this paradise. That is a very comforting thought to a child. What a wonderful thought of security to believe something invisible was watching you every second of every day, even with so many lives to plan and take care of. Almost every day until I turned 18 and left home, I was in the church for one function or another. It was our family’s social life. As a teenager I began to question why, if we are told to treat people the way we wanted to be treated, or if we were going to reap what we sow, why didn’t this have an effect on the way people lived their lives and treated each other? They didn’t apply what they learned, and it certainly didn’t affect what they did, either, yet they all called themselves Christians and said they believed in God. They didn’t take the teachings very seriously.I stopped going to church, but in my mid 20’s I went back to church and tried again for 2 years to make God the center of my life. I wanted so much to have faith in these teachings. I wanted it to be real. After 2 years I quit again. Something was missing. It took a lot of searching and studying until finally, in my mid 30’s, I realized 2 things.

        The Bible told you ‘how’ to behave as a good human but there was no explanation of ‘why’ or what would happen to you in this lifetime if you didn’t apply the teachings, except it was to benefit you when you died, so you could go to heaven, but left out how it was to affect your life today. There was no explanation of how to apply these teachings except to pray to God to fix the problems in your life and to praise him if things got better. God couldn’t lose. If someone were sick and died, then God wanted him in heaven, and if he lived, then the Great Healer bestowed a miracle. That philosophy worked for every issue in your life.

        That leads me to the second realization. Many people who practice this faith want something – someone- to be responsible for the things that happen to them. When things go wrong it is something or someone else that is responsible for our unhappiness, and they need to change. Even if it is the way we are being treated by family members, co-workers and friends saying it is something being do “to” us. Believing God is responsible. He has a “plan” for us and it relinquishes us from being responsible for our illnesses, our failures. We continue to think if we praise him more he won’t get angry and punish us. He will love us more. It teaches us we don’t have to worry about our sins because a man died on a cross 2000 years. He died so we won’t have to be responsible for the bad causes we make in our lives. We pray to something outside of ourselves to fix our problems, not realizing the problem is ours. We made the caused in our lives to have the life we have. We don’t want to be the cause for our unhappiness. Something outside of us has it as part of the ‘plan’ he has for our lives.

        If you believe in these things why would you want to even contemplate the thought that this could be wrong? Love God and Jesus and go to heaven, even if you made bad causes in your life.

        I realize I have explained more than your reply warranted. Often, people make reference to God in their life, because that is what they learned to do, and I am not trying to criticize you for your beliefs. Most people never ask themselves why they believe what they do. It has always been there so why search any further?

        This is a reply I will turn into a post because there is something else I want to say and it is something I wanted to write about for awhile. The concept of heaven.

        If there was a place like heaven to go to after you die ( which I don’t believe exists for more than one reason) I sure wouldn’t want to go. Utopia would be pretty darn boring, to say the least, and would only be appealing to someone who doesn’t already live in a mansion. I have found no explanation of what people ‘do’ in heaven. I am open to anyone pointing me in the direction of where there is an explanation. Maybe I missed it.

        I know this is a weird question, but if we live in mansions, who cleans them? Are they self cleaning? Do we eat? I love to cook and get a lot of pleasure from preparing and eating food. I’d hate to have that taken away. Can I play my piano, compose music in heaven? That, too, is a joy to me and to people who have heard me in my life. Is it wrong to have an ego about something that took me 53 years to get where I am? I started at age 7. If this a ” God given” talent, would it be taken away? Would a piano appear in my mansion to tune a piano or will it never needed tuning, or would a piano tuner who died help me for free? Would I have no more challenges? No more mountains to climb? Nothing to accomplish? Would I just be a perfect person who’s only function was to sit at the very of feet of God and praise him because he is a very jealous God? “I will have no gods before me, or I’ll get very pissed off!)

        So unless someone can explain heaven to me, I sure as hell don’t want to go, or go to the Christian concept of hell, either.

        So, if I am really good person and don’t lie or cheat. I try every day to follow the golden rule. I apply, “You reap what you sow” I don’t covet neighbor’s life. I don’t cheat on my husband. I help and encourage people. I try to be a good example to other people and affect their life in a positive way, is there anyone out there who will tell me I’m still going to hell, and the murderer who repents in the final moment of his life in prison, and it’s as easy to asking Jesus to come into your heart, before they murder him, will he go to heaven?

        None of this makes sense. Have you ever tried to find these answers or do you believe in it because you were taught to believe in it and you never questioned it?

        By now, you know I am no longer a Christian. I questioned these things and at age 34 found the answers I was searching for in Nichiren Buddhism. There are quite a few sects of Buddhism just like Christianity as it moved through the world. So it is not like Tibetan or Zen although there are many good things taught in both, just like there are many good things taught in Christianity. What Christians are unaware of, is that a large portion of the lessons taught come from Buddhism, taught 1000 years before even the birth of Christ. It doesn’t matter if you believe it, the fact exists. What Jesus taught was Buddhism. Where do you think he was for 20 years between the ages of 12 and 32? He traveled. One place he traveled to was India, where he learned the concept of karma, which used to be in the Bible, and was removed by leaders of the church to have control of the masses by instilling the fear of hell. People were not allowed bibles or taught to read and right. Only the priests had that privilege. People were repressed and killed if they didn’t believe what the church taught. This is all searchable information.

        John, I apologize for taking up so much space on your blog. If it is too much, in any way, please don’t approve the comment. I will reblog this on http://watchand whirl.com. I would welcome any rational replies except ones that say, just have faith for the sake of faith, because that is what having faith is. It has to make sense.

        Thank you for reading, Sonni

      • johnallenrichter

        Um…. heh, yes maybe a bit much…. Sometimes more is said with less. Which is the foundation of my belief in life, religion, heaven and other things beyond our knowledge. We know what we are supposed to do, how to act, to love one another in the face of even the worst circumstances. That message does make it through to us- but religion is the devil’s playground. That’s why there are those who verbally voice their faith for their God while simultaneously believing they can kill others in His name. Or others who tell people that they will reach “salvation” or “eternal life” by doing nothing more than asking for forgiveness or muttering a few words aloud. The devil has done his job well when these people can not see their own contradictions. I believe faith did not start with one single religion, as you suggest, but rather evolved in unity while in complete separation.

        Pygmy’s in the deepest jungles – and not discovered until well into the 20th century – were found to have (amazingly) very similar moral and social codes to that of our own. The Buddhists you mention – except for the physical worldly aspect of who God was when He lived on earth – have the exact same principles and dogma of love and compassion that sprouted within Christianity. Sonni, that’s not coincidence – nor did these religions cross paths and somehow become similar though some ecumenical sharing. They all grew completely separately from one another while developing the exact same beliefs. Even mainstream Moslem touts those same beliefs. I believe it is the Holy Spirit within every man that led us all to that same direction. And I hold that it is the strongest argument for deity that I know of. As a Christian I think when Christ sacrificed Himself he unleashed the Holy Spirit into all men, of all time, of all places in this world. The dogma isn’t different between us – only our guesses as to how it came to be. Our only job in life is to listen to that Spirit within us. No man can tell you “this is God law” – for God’s laws have been written upon your heart, mind and soul by the Holy Spirit. You do not need an interpreter or religion to help you understand Him. Though religion can be a good repository of tradition, I say it causes more trouble than it solves. Heaven? I’m not even sure that the idea of “Heaven” is even mentioned in the Bible. Christ calls it eternal life or salvation. Saved from what? Ourselves, of course…… Thanks for the prod. Incidentally, after Christ rose from the dead He told His apostles that He needed to leave for a while and tend to His other flocks. Who do you think He was referring to? The Buddhists? Muslims? Jews? It’s not about who believes what, or what form God took when He walked on this earth. It’s about you, the inside you. It is all for you Sonni. Everything you hear, see, smell, taste and feel was put here for you. And everyday you have the opportunity to love. That is my belief.

      • sonniq

        Well written. Yes, everything you are saying is true. We do have the opportunity each day when we wake to make of that day what we want. Some fill it with anger, some with love, some with depression or frustration. When someone has nowhere to turn to they think it can never change, and those people may chose to end their life or a life of another out of desperation. I have tried hard in my life to understand my life and why I do what I do. Fortunately, I still have my mother, because even at my age of 60, she has the ability to bring me down to earth to think about my actions before I do something that will make more bad causes ( like getting back at a family member who hurt me) My Mother is also Buddhist, changed 25 years ago. it was hard because she got a lot for backlash from people at her church. But she made her choice and stuck with it. 5 years ago I moved near my mother after 40 years of being away and I am grateful every day to still have her in my life.

        I think, because man has the ability to think and reflect upon his actions that most people want to do the right thing, they just don’t often have the courage to do it, and are easily swayed by the people around them. They need to belong to that community and for good reason may not want to lose them. For someone to stand up alone and say, ” I don’t believe that anymore, because now I believe this . . .” brings down scorn and also the chance of being kicked out of that group, for example, the Amish, which is an extreme.

        To change someone’s religion – convert – is not easy. it’s like quitting smoking cigarettes. The person inside has to want that change. Political parties in different countries have killed people who didn’t “say” they believe in the belief of the country and people had to meet in secret to talk about their beliefs. Never will there be one religion. It is the lower tendencies in many people who feel they have to scoff at another person’s belief. Because most people want to do the right thing is why we’ve managed to survive and not all kill each other. I believe it is important to respect the faith someone chooses. Find the things that are the same and not the things that are different. You and I – we have a different belief in what happens when we die, but really, no one knows. If the belief in heaven is what makes you happy, then to give up that belief would shake the core of your belief. It’s nice to think of there being a paradise to go to after we die. I believe, that paradise is found within in our life, that ultimately, it is how we live our lives, the people we help, the love and respect we show, the good causes and effects we make creates the state of heaven and is found within.

        Many of the stories that are passed down through all religions were told word of mouth for centuries before there was the ability to write them down, and much like today’s gossip, each telling promotes a little different viewpoint or maybe a different twist or added information. that is why, in the bible, I don’t see these this happenings – such as rising from dead as factual, it is the end result of many people repeating a story until it became what it is. for some people to say that every single word is the word of God is pretty much wishful thinking. But – if they learn the lessons – and the parables – like and Buddhism – take them into heart and try to live them, they will be better humans. The Bible, The Gosho ( Buddhism – the teaching from the Lotus Sutra ) the Koran (which I’ve never read, but assume it also teaches people how to live) have many of the same teachings. The main difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that we don’t put a human element into force, the rhythm of the universe, not give it a thinking mind. But what does that really matter int the long run if you learn how to live in a way that respects all life and have a guide that helps you to understand why things happen in your life with a way to overcome the things that make you happy? I, then, can’t say you are wrong and I am right. There are many paths that lead to the same place.

        I remember reading recently, an article about apes and their compassion and sense of right and wrong. How they fight and then hug, the love and caring for family. We see it in all animals. Everyone fights for survival, even the ants on the ground who fight off other ants if they get too close to their food.

        I do have a favor to ask, if you still have it. I wanted to copy the reply I made to you, but since I asked you to wait and not approve it I can’t get to it. Would you copy it for me and send it in an email to me? sonniq56@gmail.com. I’m not sure what I want to do with it, but I do like to save my writings.

        Have a wonderful day. I hope the sun is shining where you are! My flowers are starting to pop out of the ground after a bitter cold winter.

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