Miles of Good: A Poet’s Response

April 17th again
April 17, 2013, Boston. Photo by Chad Parenteau

Bostonians have thoughtfully responded to the Marathon bombings in so many ways, using their individual gifts. Local poet Chad Parenteau is one of thirteen poets who have contributed work to the Mayor’s Prose & Poetry Program for April, responding to a call for poems written in response to the Marathon tragedy. The poems were chosen by the City’s Poet Laureate Sam Cornish and will be printed and hung in various locations around Boston City Hall.

Boston Cares interviewed the Jamaica Plain poet about his contribution, Mom at the Marathon.


Mom at the Marathon

She says she will go back next year.
This amidst the rush away
from Arlington, a wave of smoke,
onlookers’ tales of shooting glass.

This amidst the rush away
to trains not checked for bombs.
onlookers’ tales of shooting glass
say explosions must have come from inside.

The trains not checked for bombs,
she makes her way back to Bellingham,
says explosions must have come from inside,
the phone crackling like a fuse.

She makes her way back to Bellingham.
From Arlington, a wave of smoke.
The phone crackling like a fuse,
Mom says she will go back next year.

– Chad Parenteau

Tell us about the poem.

I had written this as part of National Poetry month last April. A lot of people challenge themselves to write a poem a day during April. I’d done a series of form poems. This one is a pantoum, which I chose because it invokes a feeling of prayer or mantra. I did about four of them in April and am doing another four a year later based on new information. I started them two days after everything had happened.

What made your respond in poetry?

It was a ready outlet to share with others in the one-month challenge. I couldn’t really move on unless I addressed this issue. It was an intense week. We cancelled the Monday poetry night I run, Stone Soup, which we rarely do. It just did not feel safe to be in Boston for the first time in a long time. My Mom was literally the first one I called because my cousin was running the Marathon and finished about a half hour before the bombings took place. Mom was going into the Arlington Street T stop and at the time she talked to me she was either in the process of getting on the train or on it back to Franklin and literally telling me she would go back to the Marathon next year, even in light of what had just happened.

How did you feel about that?

At the time I didn’t know if her automatically saying she was going back this year was an act of defiance or a sign of being desensitized to everything around her. It really shocked me. I was at work that day and didn’t know where anyone was for a little while. Then I got notification from someone asking if everyone was alright and that’s when I leapt online and my mom was the first one I called.

So, is your mom going back?

I suspect she is. We haven’t discussed it since then. Even though I wasn’t big on big group events, I’m considering being there for my family as well. If my cousin had finished just a little later….there were at least 5 members of my family there waiting for him to come in.

How do you think poetry helps readers with something like this?

Even though what I wrote was very reactionary and didn’t have all the information in, for example about the line about it came from inside a building, I think writing like this, it helps to sort through panic and any kind of mob thought. With poetry you have to come from a place of calm center even if you’re reacting from fear, in order for the poem to be written and completed. Even if the calm center only comes after you wrote it and you have to look at it afterwards.

Will there be any poetry memorial reading?

Hopefully the city will have some kind of ceremony. I’ll keep sharing them as I can, like through Oddball Magazine and other venues.I definitely want to write something that has even more thought behind it. I am always trying to understand the why, not just the what or the who. I try to write to escape the idea of mob mentality. I obviously want justice for the people who are victims, but I also try to vie away from vengeance and try to understand why things happened the way they happened.

I’m not doing this as an advocate or to say we are Boston Strong, just from a perspective of understanding. It’s great for people to rally, but I’m also interested in what happens after we gather because after the crowds disperse, you’re just left with your own thoughts and questions.

What do you think is going to happen this year in terms of how people feel?

I think people are going to be more protective of each other as they participate in this event, but there’s also going to be the same resiliency my mom exhibited less than a half hour after the bombing and I think we are going to appreciate the resiliency of others. There’s been no shortage of people who want to run and participate. I don’t know if it’s our location or the people involved, but overall even leading up to the capture of the surviving brother, the reaction has been more one of unification rather than polarization.

Is that poem-worthy?

I think so. Anything is poem worthy as long as you have the right perspective. I always write up more questions than I do anthems, but surely there’s room for both.

Thank you, Chad.

Chad Parenteau is the current host and organizer of the Stone Soup Poetry series now based in Cambridge, MA at the Out of  The Blue Art Gallery.  He has had work recently published in Amethyst Arsenic and the anthology Uncommon Core: Contemporary Poems for Learning and Living.  His first full-length poetry collection, Patron Emeritus, was published by FootHills Publishing in 2013.  He serves as both a contributing editor and humor columnist to the online journal Oddball Magazine.