Sunday, September 11, 2011

4 poems I wrote in the 6 months after Sept. 11, 2001

1) untitled

I didn’t dream for days
for weeks
the smoke drifted to my neighborhood
and I awoke thinking
my apartment was on fire
they said on the news
you can see it all the way from the moon
one of my first grade students announced
another drew the towers falling
drew his own home standing tall
my building is strong
he said
very strong
looking into my eyes
to make sure I believed
he was safe.

2) New York City, December 2001

It doesn’t feel like winter,
that’s the strange thing.
People peering at Christmas windows,
ice skating at Rockefeller Center,
walking through Central Park
have not even zipped their jackets,
don’t bother with gloves or scarves.
Flags wave across the city in a spring-like breeze.
Outside a firehouse, amidst the flowers and cards,
a red white and blue pumpkin still grins.
Emptying a drop box, the mailman
wearing short sleeves,
wearing plastic gloves,
turns his face to the sun.
Perhaps this year
winter has put itself on hold,
given us a reprieve
from the sleet and the snow,
the wind that slices through your skin
until you can’t stop shivering.
We already can’t stop,
we’ve been shaking for months,
eyeing every plane overhead,
waking in the middle of the night,
dreaming of bombs, of fire,
drinking more, taking more tranquilizers,
having more sex,
donating more money,
giving more time,
looking, really looking, into one another’s eyes.

3) Volunteering After September 11 (in early 2002)

I am hunched over a file cabinet,
checking lump sum payments to displaced residents.
Two employees behind me are laughing
about someone they both know.
“She’s gonna have some ugly-ass kids if she stays with him,”
one says.
“Ohhhhhh,” says the other, half-disapproving, half-giggling.
“Their kid’s gonna be so ugly, they’ll take him away,
put him in the Bronx Zoo.”
“Shut up!” her friend laughs.
The room smells like winter coats.
I am handling copies of leases,
unpaid bills, invoices
for apartment cleaning,
for valuables that have yet to be replaced.
“You better watch out or your kid’s gonna turn out ugly!”
“I don’t care,” she says, “as long as he can fight.”
The beautiful ceilings are so high.
Voices carry up, up, up.
All I can do is listen.
When the first woman walks away,
the second one murmurs,
“God’s gonna punish her.”
Then, more clearly,
“God is going to punish her,”
her voice low, and ominous.

4) Towers of Light (March 2002)

Standing at the edge
of Washington Square
mothers stop, their babies in strollers,
Lights even taller than the towers once were,
curve into the night sky,
a ghostly half-rainbow at the top
A helicopter flies through one
I hold my breath, but
nothing is left for it to hit

It doesn’t feel like half a year
more like two months, maybe three
and this is what I think about:
war in Afghanistan
the hungry and the weary
the job that I lost
blood, bones,
fire and smoke
last phone calls home
hands outstretched
the things we do for love,
or the promise of it.

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