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Late, There was an Island (A Poem Cycle)

1. Aftermath

There is an uncommon light in the sky
Pale petals are scored into stone.

I want to write of the linden tree
That stoops at the edge of the river

But its leaves are filled with insects
With wings the color of dry blood.

At the far side of the river Hudson
By the southern tip of our island

A mountain soars, a torrent of sentences
Syllables of flame stitch the rubble

An eye, a lip, a cut hand blooms
Sweet and bitter smoke stains the sky.
2. Invisible City

Sweet and bitter smoke stains the air
The verb stains has a thread torn out

I step out to the linden grove
Bruised trees are the color of sand.

Something uncoils and blows at my feet
Sliver of mist? Bolt of beatitude?

A scrap of what was once called sky?
I murmur words that come to me

Tall towers, twin towers I used to see.
A bloody seam of sense drops free.

By Liberty Street, on a knot of rubble
In altered light, I see a bird cry.
3. Pitfire

In altered light I hear a bird cry.
By the pit, tor of metal, strut of death.

Bird song yet. Liturgie de cristal.
Flesh in fiery pieces, mute sediments of love.

Shall a soul visit her mutilated parts?
How much shall a body be home?

Under these burnt balconies of air,
Autumnal duty that greets us.

At night, a clarinet solo I put on:
Bird song pitched to a gorge, a net of cries.

In the news, a voice caught on a lost line:
`Weíve even struck the birdís throat.í
Color of Home

I met you by Battery Park where the bridge once was.
Invisible it ran between the towers.
What made you follow me, O ghost in black cutaways?

Dear Mr Lorca I address you,
filled with a formal feeling.
You were tongue tied on the subway till a voice cried out:

34th street, last stop on the D.
Itís the Empire State, our tallest again.
Time to gather personal belongings, figure out redemption.

You leant into my ribs muttering:
Did you hear that, you seller of salt
and gatherer of ash just as your foremothers were.

How the world goes on and on.
Have you ever seen a bullfight?
What do you have strapped to your back?

Then quieter, under your breath:
Letís survive the last stop together.
I knew a Hindu ballerina once.

Nothing like you, a quick, delicate thing.
I walked with her by the river
those months when English fled from me

and the young men of Manhattan
broke cherry twigs and scribbled on my skin
till one cried out -- I am the boy killed by dark water,

surely you know me?
Then bolt upright you whispered:
Why stay on this island?

See how its ringed by water and flame?
You who have never seen Granada --
tell me, what is the color of home?
Kabir Sings
in a City of Burning Towers

What a shame
they scared you so
you plucked your sari off,
crushed it into a ball

then spread it
on the toilet floor.
Sparks from the towers
fled through the weave of silk.

With your black hair
and sun dark skin
youíre just a child of earth.
Kabir the weaver sings:

O men and dogs
in times of grief
our rolling earth
grows small.

'Late, There was an Island':In my notebook I have written down the dates of composition:'Aftermath' September 13-18, 2001; 'Invisible City', October 17- November 3 ,2001; 'Pifire', November 20- Dec 5, 2001. 'Aftermath', 'Invisible City' These two poems saw the light of day on December 7, 2001 at a panel discussion 'Artist in a Time of Crisis', New York Foundation for the Arts, Drawing Center, SOHO.Together with 'Pitfire' they were in the exhibit 'Time to Consider: The Arts Respond to 9/11'. (www.timetoconsider.org)
'Pitfire''Liturgie de cristal' is Olivier Messaienís phrase. I have taken it from his preface to Quatuor pour la fin de temps, Part 1. The clarinet solo is Part 3 (abÓme des oiseaux) (www.timetoconsider.org)

—Nicole Cooley, Queens College
9/11 Poems from Raw Silk (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2004)