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Poem: Heroes by Leah Mueller
By Leah Mueller
Three men inside a crowded train
perch on the edge of plastic seats.
Hands folded between bent knees,
they wait patiently for their stop.
Their bodies sway gently with
the engine's momentum.
Two black girls:
one Muslim, wearing a hijab,
the other westernized,
chat about school
and friends, the usual banter
of close companions. They
notice a red-faced man
standing above them, clutching
the overhead pole in one fist.
He opens his cavernous mouth
so wide the girls can see
the inside of his throat.
Glaring down at them,
he shrieks breathlessly
with a preacher's conviction,
rails of taxes and deportation,
tells them they don't deserve to live.
The other riders sit
in silent exasperation, feeling
pity for the girls. One of
the younger men rises
from his seat, speaks boldly,
tells the red-faced man to stop.
His words are quiet, but unyielding.
The shouter removes a long blade
from one of his trouser pockets,
slits the young man's throat
all the way to his chest.
The train erupts in chaos,
yet two more riders step forward.
The attacker has waited
his entire life for this: his
internet screeds a dress-rehearsal,
words of hate scrawled electronically
from his parents' spare bedroom.
Promises of revenge, target yet
to be determined. His mother
fed him, gave him shelter, hoped
the moment would never arrive.
Two other riders try to wrestle
weapon from the attacker's hand;
he has no choice but to kill them too.
They wouldn't leave him alone,
and needed to be taught a lesson.
The riders crumple to the floor,
blood gurgling from their throats.
The attacker is intoxicated
with vindication, ready to
do more damage, but the passengers
have mobilized against him.
He collapses beside his victims. Unrepentant,
he continues screaming, as
the authorities restrain him in handcuffs
and pull him from the train.
Two of the victims die quickly:
one of the men says,
“Tell everyone on this train
that I love them”, while paramedics
strap him to the gurney.
Third man is silent,
he has already stopped breathing.
The first defender
survives in the hospital,
his jugular spared by a millimeter.
When he can speak, he reminds
everyone who the real victims are:
not any of the three white heroes,
but the two Muslim girls,
who must live with constant hatred,
directed towards them daily
by system whose rage is better hidden,
but every bit as lethal.
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