a poem by Michael R. Burch
Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning
This two-line epigram has become popular with schoolchildren and has been taught in a
number of classes, including Holocaust studies, sometimes alongside the diary of
Anne Frank. Over the years this has become my most popular poem, as it has "gone
viral" hundreds of times and I can no longer keep track of where it has been
published. The last time I tried to count the publications, I came up with 397.
But I'm sure I missed some.
Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
―for the children of Gaza and the Nakba
by Michael R. Burch
I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning: "Epitaph" is a warning,
because if we can turn our backs on innocent children, other people can turn
their backs on us. The same factors that kill children can kill us too:
violence, war, social injustices, hunger, disease, climate change, and just
plain simple neglect. When the subject is a Palestinian child, I think there is
an additional danger. It's not a danger than many Americans want to accept. The
danger is that when powerful nations like the United States and Israel cause the
children of a weaker people to suffer and die unjustly, some of the men and
women who love those children are going to fight back. And because they don't
have the ability to fight a "fair fight" against vastly superior militaries,
they will use guerilla tactics. The United States and Israel will flood the
world with propaganda about the evils of terrorism, without bothering to mention
their own large-scale acts of terrorism against innocent children and their
defenseless families. So my epitaph as published above is a very dark warning,
because when powerful nations decide that it's okay for children to die so that
they can get what they want (Israel wants more Palestinian land and the United
States lets Israel run amok), the parents and families of those children will
not agree, and some of them will fight back. For every Palestinian child who
dies so unjustly, there could be another 9-11 attack. The only path to peace is
for Israel and the United States to stop lying about what they are really doing,
and end their wild injustices against Palestinians who are already living on the
margins of existence. But there seems to be no limits to the lies the United
States and Israel are willing to tell, and no limit to the suffering they are
willing to inflict on people with no good options.
I'm an American who is sickened by what I see my government doing in the Middle
East. I do what I can to let the truth be known.
Publication History: Over the years, "Epitaph" has been
published with a number of titles because so many children live imperiled lives
in the modern world. The poem was originally titled simply "Epitaph," then
"Epitaph for a Child" and "A Child's Epitaph." When I decided to become an
editor, publisher and translator of Holocaust poetry, I re-titled the poem
"Epitaph for a Child of the Holocaust." When I saw the unfolding crisis in
Darfur, I published the poem as "Epitaph for a Child of Darfur" and "Epitaph for
a Darfur Child." As I saw the plight of Palestinian children grow worse and
worse, I published it as "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child," "Epitaph for a Child
of the Nakba," and "Epitaph for a Child of Gaza." When disaster struck Haiti, it
became "Epitaph for a Child of Haiti." After I worked with Hiroshima survivor
Takashi "Thomas" Tanemori on his autobiography Hiroshima: Bridge to
Forgiveness, I published a page of Hiroshima poetry and titled my poem
"Epitaph for a Child of Hiroshima." In recent years, as American children have
been murdered by serial killers, I have titled the poem "Epitaph for a Sandy
Hook Child" and "Epitaph for a Parkland Child" and "Epitaph for a Homeless
Child." There has also been an "Epitaph for a Syrian Child," an "Epitaph for a
Turkish Child," an "Epitaph for a Sahrawi Child," and an Epitaph for a Child of
Peshawar." But in each case the message is the same: we should not be subjecting
innocent children to murderous violence, and when natural disasters strike, we
should not turn our backs on them.
Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his
wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles,
reviews, short stories and letters have appeared
more than 4,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu,
BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing,
The Best of the Eclectic Muse, Unlikely Stories and
hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the
founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper and, according to Google, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust,
Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Haiti, Gaza
and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books,
Violets for Beth (White
Violet Press, 2012) and
O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013).
A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed.
Burch's poetry has been translated into eleven languages and set to music by the
composers Mark Buller, Alexander Comitas and Seth M. Smith. One of his poems, "First They
Came for the Muslims," has been adopted by Amnesty International for its
Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for
students and educators. He has also served as editor of International
Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better
For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the
poet, please click
Burch Expanded Bio.