My face was in my hands
not in prayer, but in my hands
my face peeled of skin
by volcanic burst of water boiling up
from a pressure canner that lacked one handle.
The hum of the water didn’t sound right
for the simple hot-water bath the recipe
called for. Too hot? Too late. The lid blew off
when the seal was opened and a geyser of burning
broke over my face, across my chest
and down my arm, my mouth an astonished O!
All in a moment, my face was in my hands
and saving face took on a different meaning.
Judith Robbins’ latest collection of poems, To Bury or Burn, sweeps
across the spectrum of life, leaving in its wake moments of joy and
grief, childhood and motherhood, poets and their poems, and the
company and loss of cats, all of it against the backdrop of the
The book is available from Amazon
from the publisher, North Country Press
from Barnes & Noble
and from most bookstores.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.