THE QUALITY OF MERCY IS NOT STRAINED

by HOWIE GOOD

Some 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar ordered a gang of pirates he’d captured on the Mediterranean to be crucified, a form of punishment designed to produce a slow death with maximum humiliation and suffering. But just before the large wooden crosses to which the pirates had been tied were raised off the ground, Caesar, in an act of mercy, drew his knife and personally cut their throats.

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In the camps, specially designated Jewish prisoners, the sonderkommandos, had to disentangle the naked corpses lying in heaps in the gas chambers and cart them to the ovens for cremation. Although the hair caught fire first, it was the head that took longest to burn.

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A doctor compares the heart to a house with four doors. Others don’t want to believe their own memories. The sky is gray, the ocean black. Bombs fall on a breadline, a theater, a maternity ward. Oh mankind, why do you destroy yourself? Up, you corpses! Get up! 

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I was born in the rain and the dark. The two atom bombs were dropped that summer. There was a poisonous glitter in the sky, and it went all over the world. Familiar words were given new, unfamiliar meanings. Wounds refused to heal. Roses might have been the size of bonfires.

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We may think we know where we’re going when we head out for the day, but we don’t. A panhandler on the traffic island holds up a ragged piece of cardboard, Beep if you know Jesus shakily written on it in marker. Nobody does.

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HOWIE GOOD is a writer and collage artist on Cape Cod.

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