I. August 21, 2001
A week after the silent attack
beneath the maple tree, the sidewalk stain
has faded from our super's brush,
bleach, and rain.
the photo and vigil candles,
leaving wax to seal the ground
like a letter his friends don't need to open now,
knowing the last lines.
I've watched shopping carts and roller
that concrete slab.
A child pulling a toy wagon.
Chinese restaurant workers peddling
to the next delivery, uniforms white
as priests' robes.
And New York detectives in pairs,
avuncular, who paced the spot, pressing cards
into my hand, urging me to stay in touch:
all the wheels turning.
II. Early December
The last constellation of leaves
lies like jagged stars.
What did I expect this season of grief
but the usual turning?
One person here never made it home;
then across the river, thousands.
Thousands of candle flames shook
at the sky, demanding to know where
Voids may hold life inside the rubble,
experts said, trying to conjure hope
So they dug and confirmed our doubts:
nothing still equals nothing.
If I lived in another time,
I'd find divine design in every death
by plague or arrow,
I'd draw lines through the teeming sky
to summon centaur and archer,
all the gods would point the way.
My cosmology is simple: at the center
of the universe are these tangled boughs,
a cat's cradle rocking against a cold
alabaster sky; at the end of one branch,
this spare scattering of gold.
I want to name the shape of what remains
"Cup of Mercy Major"
and use its light to trace
every son and daughter lost
in the tumult, to call forth eyes, ears, lips,
every shining face.
WHAT CANNOT BURN
"My waiters just stand around, stationary
—Chinatown restaurant owner, two weeks after 9/11,
quoted in The New York Times
I stand wherever I find myself,
a secret soldier wearing pain
across my heart like a too-tight bandolier.
Half a mile away, the ground still smolders;
on the world's far side,
the sky flares and burns down.
But I stand wherever I find myself,
a statue in churches' shadowed niches
after all the crowds have gone,
on a winter's graveyard shift,
sentry rooted at the back of sidewalk shrines.
I just stand around like an unlit
a frozen stick surrounded by flame.
"What Cannot Burn"
was published in Crab Orchard Review