Fire Tuesday, Ash Wednesday

This is another old poem, one I wrote in response to the September 11, 2001 disaster at the New York City World Trade Centers.


This end-over-end world lands on its head
& slowly topples over. Everything is upside-down.
How do I know? The burnt black dog, a runt, yes,
but still a medium-sized breed, is just half
the size of the neighbor’s grey & white house cat.

The black Madonna is crusted not with jewels nor tears,
but paint; the edges of her paper curl & dissolve
with slow fires. The penitent kneels, wet lines
drawing a map of the face, and slowly turns to salt
between an altar of ashes and blooming pussywillows.

Is this enough cause, enough reason? No, you say,
bitterly demanding an honesty beyond the baring
of surprise or pain. Watch your mouth, I growl back,
watch, & then bite my own chapped, tart cherry lips.
They split. I spit out red-streaked pits like dragon’s teeth.

More, I say. Fine. Here, in this upside-down world,
bodies drop from the sky; too-busy work-a-day hearts
are rent, bent, & break underfoot as over them
we dash to catch our falling dreams. No one knows
what will happen next, even less so than usual.

An incipient paralytic, this spinal cord injury
of our daily hopes wears a halo while waiting
for a final prognosis. Oh, the blessings left behind.
Waiting is both a blessing & a veil. The veil is a dream;
the veil is the dust settling, the dust gathering

on the glass screens we all watch: movement of heartbeats,
slow motion clouds with devils’ faces, saints & angels
which gather / labor / mourn / praise the hearts
of all above & below. Dust gathers on the glass screens
with prayers & love songs from the dearest friends

we never met & maybe never will, living as they do
elsewhere, in a world we can only imagine, as we never
imagined our own. The veil is the skin of the eardrum
hearing impossible words never said, having flown
across an ocean to laugh & cry in our virtual ears.

The veil is the skin of an aircraft to we who love flying,
wanting to walk on, walk through that skin, walk off
the vibrating wing into rainbow clouds humming with
the sweet voices of hungers eased at endings. The veil
is the skin which hungers & hurries & knows not why.

Violence rends the fragile, and enfeebles the firm.
Computers lose power & discharge static with a crackle
& hiss, but dust still clings to every dimmed surface.
Bold & brassy as a trumpet, the wide & sudden silence
tries to tell us we are no longer connected;

we’ll never walk again; unseen enemies always win;
unseen loved ones are unlovable; we have been abandoned —
where is our God? Where are our virtual loved ones? Doubts.
Right, I say. In that silence, laughter, loud & vigorous, is
the new prayer. At last, you say, I knew you had it in you.

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2 responses to “Fire Tuesday, Ash Wednesday

  1. Thank you for posting again. Was worth waiting for.
    Memorial Day is a good time to reflect on the brave souls lost during 9-11.
    Strong imagery, many familar scenes.
    Was working in my office at home that morning, listening to radio news till all planes crashed.

  2. The library became a safe gathering place for people to talk and share and feel shattered.

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