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Apology to Elena

by Maureen Glaude

Elena Assam-Thunderbird
we’re sorry —
we who didn’t know you,
and we who knew you as if
you could have been
any one of us
or our daughters.

that to date we only know
the sketch of the truth
of your demise
but your best friend’s
and today’s newspaper’s revelations
seem to make it evident…

that at seventeen
you found your circle of support
by hanging outside the Rideau Center
late into the nights

…that you no longer lived at home
and hadn’t kept much contact
with your mom these days
sometimes these happen
with families and teens.

We who live and sleep
almost underfoot of where it happened
are sorry we failed to detect
the risk of your attack
that night, before it reached the point
of consequence,
only your blood
your stained satchel
and then your drowned body,
left to spin the tale.

Elena, it’s our urban remorse
that the pedestrian paths and bushes
skirting our public transitway’s
pick-up and drop-off stops
lack adequate lighting, a common complaint.

Media reports say some influence may have
tempered your judgment. No-one’s sure.
Perhaps that trusting openness
you were known for helped to make you
easy prey?

We’re sorry that you
stayed out past two in the morning
on those downtown streets,
ending up near the transitway and
the bushes of the Lebreton strip,
encountering strangers and someone
you believed one of your friends
“sort of knew,” from across town.

Elena, authorities today suspect
your murderer may have used the guise
of escorting you safely
to the bus path along the parkway,
to easily beat you and then throw you into the river
behind the bushes
by the kayak and canoe docking bay
of Lebreton Flats, Centertown,
after your final Friday night out
at seventeen.

That this happened here
in Ottawa, Canada (or anywhere)
is unfair, we proclaim
and all we can articulate is
we’re sorry.


Author's Note: I wrote this soon after the crime occurred, June 1st, 2002, and have now revised only slightly. Elenas murderer was found only a day or so afterward, charged quickly and serves time now. I plan to continue this in an Apologia series, with poems for Ardeth Wood, (27 years old, killed in Ottawa on a scenic bike path Aug. 6, 2003, her murderer still at large, our current recently discovered victim, Jennifer Teague, 18, killed after leaving her late hour work place, near Barrhaven, (a suburb of Ottawa), and her body found only last Sunday, after she went missing Sept. 8th, no suspect found yet, and Sophie Filion, killed Dec. 1993, her murderer yet unfound, and her body dumped behind a restaurant I frequented, in Westboro, Ottawa. Though Elenas murder seems to be less talked of by the media, when they look back on the women victims, there are poems posted for her on google, and sites dedicated to her and her kind generous spirit. Perhaps because the mystery of the crime ended (as much as such atrocities can be solved) we seem to hear less of hers. The murderer (a young man at the time) is serving life in prison, but depending on the appeal process, could be eligible to be released at age 52. Unfortunately, the list has gone on too long, too often, and I could/should dedicate to several other victims in my Apologia series.

Posted on 09/22/2005
Copyright © 2021 Maureen Glaude

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Chris Sorrenti on 09/22/05 at 04:49 PM

I remember this one from a few years ago, as well as the incident that inspired it. I think it's a good idea therapeutically to help yourself deal with these poor women by writing. Otherwise we just feel helpless except to take precautions for ourselves and loved ones. Another one for your Apologia series: Melinda Sheppit, age 16, who dropped out of school, ran away from home, got pregnant, then turned to prostitution to support herself. Three weeks later, strangled, her body was found in the market; her killer has yet to be brought to justice.

Posted by Quentin S Clingerman on 09/23/05 at 01:51 AM

It is so sad. Your Apologia series may create some interest in the local government to take action concerning better security (such as lighting). I recall two of our daughters as teen agers having to drive home from work in the early hours of the morning. It was a matter of concern.

Posted by Dana E Brossard on 09/23/05 at 04:37 PM

So very, very sad.

Posted by Paganini Jones on 09/26/05 at 06:51 PM

There is a great power to this piece as you slowly reveal the story you are telling. And the last stanza is telling in its helplessness, for sorry is of course nowhere near enough but usually the official line (commonly followed by a 'but', I find. One of the best pieces I have read in an age.

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