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.
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.
After all these years her reduction to ashes
sits unmolested on the fireplace mantle,
her mother afraid to let her go underground.
Her father had found her frozen in death
his and her mother’s love not enough
to save her from the cold and loneliness
of depression, that folded her in on herself.
If only she’d called, they’d have heard and come
running with hope for a new beginning.
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.
Off you go on your tractor to split the wood.
Seems I’m always hailing you from a distance,
you at your work, I at mine watching you,
recording your work on a day in spring
that is already looking through summer
to the cold trap of winter beyond, knowing
the flare of color in fall a brief fire
that will not last but will end as we will––
brown and sere––pushed off our branch
by the buds of another spring.
The first pounding rumble of thunder
announces the beginning of spring today––
April 4, the 130th birthday of my grandmother
Hannah Maki. Wherever her sauna is now
may she know her life celebrated, who in 1908
braved the cold swells of the North Atlantic
to reach America through the seaport of Quincy,
Mass., where Finnish laborers worked the quarries;
where Finnish girls and Finnish women, known
for their strong character, worked in the houses
of Quincy families, cleaning, cooking, sewing,
singing songs of a homeland they would never
see again. My mummo among these valiant
Finns gets my attention with this April storm;
she who embodied sisu, and implanted it
in my own mother, who passed it on to us her
children in the genes of our hidden souls.
*sisu: Perseverance in the face of great odds,
associated with Finns and Finland.
The keen return of taste
the sound ear hearing clearly
the grandchild’s song––
To know spring in the smell
of earth and see the robins
run in a burst of color––
All of it clings burr-like
to the lining of memory.