ARCHIVED: Sarah Lawrence College Remembers 9/11 with Poetry


  • by Vijay Seshadri

  • by Dennis Nurkse

  • by Kate Knapp Johnson

  • by Marie Howe

The Disappearances

by Vijay Seshadri
Writing faculty member and director of the Graduate Program in Creative Non-Fiction
Holder of the Michele Tolela Myers Chair in Writing

"Where was it one first heard of the truth?"

On a day like any other day,
like "yesterday or centuries before,"
in a town with the one remembered street,
shaded by the buckeye and the sycamore—
the street long and true as a theorem,
the day like yesterday or the day before,
the street you walked down centuries before—
the story the same as the others flooding in
from the cardinal points is
turning to take a good look at you.
Every creature, intelligent or not, has disappeared—
the humans, phosphorescent,
the duplicating pets, the guppies and spaniels,
the Woolworth's turtle that cost forty-nine cents
(with the soiled price tag half-peeled on its shell)—
but from the look of things, it only just happened.
The wheels of the upside-down tricycle are spinning.
The swings are empty but swinging.
And the shadow is still there, and there
is the object that made it,
riding the proximate atmosphere,
oblong and illustrious above
the dispeopled bedroom community,
venting the memories of those it took,
their corrosive human element.
This is what you have to walk through to escape,
transparent but alive as coal dust.
This is what you have to hack through,
bamboo-tough and thickly clustered.
The myths are somewhere else, but here are the meanings,
and you have to breathe them in
until they burn your throat
and peck at your brain with their intoxicated teeth.
This is you as seen by them, from the corner of an eye
(was that the way you were always seen?).
This is you when the President died
(the day is brilliant and cold).
This is you poking a ground-wasps' nest.
This is you at the doorway, unobserved,
while your aunts and uncles keen over the body.
This is your first river, your first planetarium, your first popsicle.
The cold and brilliant day in six-color prints—
but the people on the screen are black and white.
Your friend's mother is saying,
Hush, children! Don't you understand history is being made?
You do, and you still do. Made and made again.
This is you as seen by them, and them as seen by you,
and you as seen by you, in five dimensions,
in seven, in three again, then two,
then reduced to a dimensionless point
in a universe where the only constant is the speed of light.
This is you at the speed of light.

"The Disappearances" was first published in The New Yorker on October 8, 2001


After a Bombing

by Dennis Nurkse
Writing faculty member

1
Lovers who had separated
wrote and asked
are you OK? And reconciled.

Fathers who disowned their children
called and cried:
Thank God you were in Queens.

The one who was late
because of a lost key
felt good fortune on his shoulders
like a crushing weight,
a tower he'd have to carry:

the one who called in sick
wandered deeper into fever,
looking for suffering,
for a spring to drink from:

2
and the children drew the Plane,
sticking out their tongues, pressing
hard with crayons, never looking up,
as if they'd seen it all their lives
the Tower—a huge box:
the Fire—an orange flower:
God—a face bright with tears
appalled in the margin:
the sun with nine spokes:

the Fireman in his smudged hat
running with outstretched arms
up a flight of endless steps
that veered suddenly off the page.

"After a Bombing" was first published in 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (2002)


Dayroses

by Kate Knapp Johnson
Writing faculty member and director of the Graduate Program in Poetry

As for the pewter pitcher, it was filled
and was poured out. Each life, clear
and deep as this water, and gone
before we could drink to the quench.
           
As for sorrow, let it be wild plumes
            from the walking birds, the striding
            flamingo, the ostrich's tail;
            as for sorrow, find it
            in the white tufts that grow
            under the antelope's belly; let
            its delicacy sear us

until we can't forget to write
the letter L every morning
with an index finger on air, write
the letters D and S and B: daughter,
sister, brother. Don't we burn from the sheer mystery
that we are here at all?—and carry
inside us the blackened candle
of each one we've loved? Water
from the silver brim, poured
into our dripping hands . . . We know

they can't come back, but "knowing"
is nothing: pollen scattered,
while the heart continues to grip
the flower itself; terror may try,
but it can't unfist that bloom—so,
they have left us, here
with many wild colors bending
in the fields, and from the pitcher,
water's emptying prayer.

            Lord, be a lace that binds us to the dead
            tighter, and tighter as evening comes
            and the dayroses fold,
            and our lips close
and only our hearts gape open
blindly

expecting to see that familiar outline, any moment,
rounding the driveway, the white gate wide—
torture us, God. We are
the living; torture us with hope.

"Dayroses" was first published in From the Other World (2008)


Government

by Marie Howe
Writing faculty member

Standing next to my old friend I sense that his soldiers have retreated.
And mine? They're resting their guns on their shoulders
talking quietly. I'm hungry, one says.
Cheeseburger, says another,
and they all decide to go and find some dinner.

But the next day, negotiating the too narrow aisles of
The Health and Harmony Food Store—when I say, Excuse me,
to the woman and her cart of organic chicken and green grapes
she pulls the cart not quite far back enough for me to pass,
and a small mob in me begins picking up the fruit to throw.

So many kingdoms,
and in each kingdom, so many people: the disinherited son, the corrupt counselor,
the courtesan, the fool.
And so many gods—arguing among themselves,
over toast, through the lunch salad
and on into the long hours of the mild spring afternoon—I'm the god.
No, I'm the god. No, I'm the god.

I can hardly hear myself over their muttering.
How can I discipline my own army? They're exhausted and want more money.
How can I disarm when my enemy seems so intent?

"Government" was originally published in The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (WW Norton)