Photograph of My Son in Brooklyn, 1995

This poem is reprintd today in commemoration of those who died, and those who lived and saved others on September 11, 2001.

O beautiful boy in the photo, Twin Towers looming
behind you across the East River, crowded with boats,
vehicles pressing their way over Brooklyn Bridge
busy, busy, while the viewer’s eye can’t help looking
up with awful knowledge of what will happen six years
hence, when what was beautiful once comes crumbling
down, and there’s no hope of reconstruction of those
tumbled towers with their personal cargo burned
and crushed to a lethal powder that stings the lungs
of workers, who in their hurry to save whom they can
among the broken, inhale the death of countless others
desiccated, seeking to be borne away from calamity,
from catastrophe, from the end of life as they’d known it.

And you, my son, what of you embodying life
on the other side of the river, seated innocent
above the fray, a trick of the camera having you
eye those distant towers as if you were Gulliver,
and they a Lilliputian pair affixed to your right
shoulder. It’s all illusion except for the deaths
to come and the look of the young man you were
seated on a parapet above the river, eyeing
the future and what you thought it could be.

 

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The Watchers

Three watchers dressed in black
stood shoulder to shoulder in dream.

They looked at me through a building
of brick, no visual barrier for these

who had come from another place
to reassure me I have no guilt

in telling the truth. I take their gaze
with gratitude. It isn’t love, but justice
in their look.

 

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

Four children, one tub
no running hot water––
How did she manage to keep us clean?

With pots and kettles on the stove
heating after supper on Saturday night
in preparation for church on Sunday

morning. The heated water half-filled
the claw-footed tub, and whoever was
first in the week’s rotation stepped

gingerly into the steamy bath.
My favorite slot was number three.
Like Goldilocks tasting the bears’

porridge and finding the bowl of Baby
Bear not too hot and not too cold
but just right, so it was with the third

slot. Granted I sat in a growing scum
but I didn’t mind, what with the rinse
the warm rinse a comforting caress

after it all. Like animals nuzzling
their fresh hay on a cold winter night
and settling into their clean bedding

with quiet nickers and oinks, we
settled onto clean sheets, murmuring
to each other as we fell asleep.

The Dance

The thought of Zelda Fitzgerald
dancing herself to death-by-fire
on the top floor of an insane asylum

gives me pause in the presence
of fire always, with fear attending.
Once scorched, any one of us thinks

twice about where the extinguisher is;
then memorizes, “In case of fire …”
before putting on dancing shoes.

September 11, 2018

On this day of destruction, the Word comes down
as bodies came down through the sacred air
as the towers themselves came down in fire and dust

choking those running away in donated sneakers
those running barefoot to Brooklyn, to Bedford Stuy
running, running away to the future, to this anniversary

when we remember the runners, the jumpers
the hostages on the planes; the lovers of fire
who commandeered those planes, those misguided

ones who worshiped death. But a new altar arises
today, when the Word comes down as life, new life
these 17 years gone; new life in the womb

of the present moment. New life that is breath
for those in New York and beyond.

Left with Questions About …

stewardship of the land we bought
when we were barely old enough
to grasp the meaning of being stewards
of what we had been given.

With age comes understanding.
With age comes sense of responsibility
to history held in the rings of the oak
in the whorls of pine crowned with cones

and even deeper in glacial stones
raked across this land in a distant time,
all of it passing through our hands
like water, as do the passing years …

And what we choose, our actions now
are the future for stewards who follow.

Suspensions

My world is filled with hanging things––
pots and pans and cutting boards
sifters, spoons, and time-dried apples––
Things. And people too are hanging,
ancestral pictures nailed on walls.
Surfaces. Flat faces. No depth but then
move on to the eyes and there reflections are
of pots, pans, cutting boards
time-dried apples pungent with hidden life.