9-11 Poems at Five
by Robert Bové (Sept. 2006)
(Note: I composed this poem cycle in early Fall 2001. Poems here were soon published at National Review Online, Opinion Journal, Chiff and Piffle, A Small Victory, The Texas Mercury, and Poets for the War. The entire cycle was published at Enter Stage Right, and linked at Little Green Footballs and Ed Driscoll among other sites, and is available at George Mason University’s 9/11 Digital Archives, soon to be housed at the Library of Congress. I am at work on a related cycle, Deep in the Hard Part, which can be found at New English Review, in order, here, here and here.—RB)
We marked four winds by an acrid smoke,
Smoke first black, then white,
Driven across East River and
Carried east across
Out over the Narrows, down
Carried north over Central Park, over
Over and into the Bronx, over and into
Carried west over
Fort Lee to
Over all was blown this marvel, a dark compass in the sky.
We saw it from a hill in Green-Wood, by Tiffany’s tomb,
Acorns, catkins, catalpa fruit littering the manicured grass,
Along with charred memos, letters, and newsprint
All covered, all covered with thankless ash—
In this ash, ashes, the ordinary become SOS, the truth of what was
And what is.
Upon the ashes of that work
Is our work—
Begun when theirs ended—
In smoke and ash,
Twisted steel, exploded glass,
When our towers, one after the other,
Shuddered and collapsed,
Those who know that work is love
Know that this work is great love,
Work done in the face of death
In defiance, in respect,
True work, true love, sacrifice—
Lives for love, living for love.
How will DNA tell us
Whose hand grasped
Axe to free trapped
Clerks in elevator
Or which hand
Steered fatal jet—
Or whose feet bore
The weight of
Boots, belt, air tank
Up and down flights of
Into the lighted
Will the DNA tell us
Who loved to dance,
Though he danced
Undo dancer in mid-
Or who, could he
Speak once more,
Would surely ask,
May I have
The next dance?
Restless and Unsleeping
I thought it raged somewhere else—
Twister hop scotching
Always, always somewhere else.
But it was racing across
Cloudless skies, down calm East Coast,
As arsonist, as human
Bomb, as some demented god.
And from a cell phone inside
We got our answer to Where
When he said, The fire is here.
The Blind Man’s Guide
There is no path; there is no road,
That we have made, that leads away
From doors in flame, from glass-shard floors
Guide dog no use but to stay close.
But to presume a path will appear,
First to blind feet, then to scorched hands,
Each step borne by that presumption—
That foot will find fall after fall,
Descending an obscure staircase
Long minute after long minute
Until a familiar embrace,
Merely imagined up to now,
Saying you are home—
Brings you home.
Out the office, hale and clean pressed
Or broken limbed, ash covered
Into waiting boat, one of hundreds
Tugs, tankers, water taxies, ferries
Evacuating under smoke,
Going in by radar
At high speed, Staten Island Ferry up to 800 rpm,
6,000 passengers one way—out—
Urgent, determined, clear
That nobody should be sitting down
That we couldn’t think of any place else
We’d rather be.
F-16’s knife through breaks in black billowing
Close down over harbor—Didn’t know
Whose they were—and on the
If it wasn’t Half Moon Just sitting there in the haze—
Almost 400 years to the day
A replica with nothing to do
On busiest day in harbor since Melville.
Two rows of barges, each longer than a stadium,
Slowly moving from
Leaving a lane between for her ferry,
Heading in the opposite direction to terminal,
Each barge pushed by a tug,
Each tug with a wheelhouse,
In each wheelhouse the same silent skipper chomping
On cigar, eyes focused straight ahead, beyond
A memory of something
She’d seen in the papers.
One told a magazine writer,
At first, the barges were filled with rebar,
Which always had some cement attached.
There were crows and seagulls everywhere.
I didn’t know crows ate cement.
He thought of going over to see how they were doing,
The workers he’d ferried in from
Ants on a hill, digging digging digging.
Was ebb tide, all that smoke
Sucked out to sea.
Steamfitter says he used to line up piling he was driving
Harder now, that hard job,
To suffer loss is not to be
At a loss. It is to be
In loss. In it, there is no
Distance any longer
Between quick kiss
And long goodbye.
Such a lie, such a lie
To deny this anguish,
Prescribing more distance,
Even deeper detachment
To those severed
From such men
As we saw that day,
In fear, in faith,
Inch by inch
Yanking one door closed
Pushing another open
With their bodies.
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