September in Gotham

This is the only poem I have been able to write about 9/11. It is the darkest shadow in my 40-poem Anniversarius cycle.

SEPTEMBER IN GOTHAM

This is New York, and fall
     has caught us unawares.
From Palisade bus I view
     the gap-toothed skyline,
a forest whose tallest trees
     are suddenly missing.

In Gotham, they say,
strange breezes from the south
make certain elders remember
downwind from the death camps.
There is talk of stolen watches
from shops beneath the rubble,
the discovery daily
     of severed limbs.

Month’s end, I walk all day
     in midtown,
with shoppers determined
to do something normal,
eat Szechuan lunch, browse
books, consider new software.
Like many others around me,
I pick things up from the counter,
     then put them back —
everyday urges seem so trivial.

There is not one note of music.
People keep stopping
     to stare nervously
     at the Empire State,
     like frightened squirrels
     in the shadow
     of a threatened sequoia.

The sycamores in Bryant Park
beam back the sun,
     an interrupted medley
     of overhanging clouds
     that pause, then part,
     then scud away.
Seedpods of honey locust fall,
curl brown like overdone toast
     on the pavement,
but the delicate leaves remain above,
     still adamant green.

It is not till night,
     till I turn the corner on Lexington
     and spy the dark hunched shell
     of the Gramercy Park Armory,
that I see the leaves of this autumn,
     its feuilles morts,
taped to treetrunks, walls and windows,
     tied to a chain link fence,
     row on row to the end of seeing,
flapping in rainstorm,  tattered, tearing,
soon to be ankle deep in the gutter —

these album-leaves of anguish
burst forth with human colors —
faces brown and pink and salmon,
oak and ash and ebony,
the rainbow of human flesh,
     of eyeflash —

visages still in their conquering twenties,
snapshot in happy moments,
    embracing their brides,
          babies on knees,
license, yearbook, graduation photos,
smiling at beach or barbecue,
ink fading or bleeding now
     in the sky’s abundant tearfall.

In the language we use
for the recovery of wayward pets,
these posters beg the impossible:

IF ANYONE HAS SEEN HER —
     MISSING   —   MISSING
LEFT SHOULDER SCAR —
A DOLPHIN TATTOO —
MISSING     —     MISSING
HAVE YOU SEEN ME?—
MISSING   —   MISSING
PLEASE FIND ME
MISSING  —   MISSING
WORLD TRADE CENTER

—September 30, 2001, New York City


Comments

  1. This is a very powerful poem. The ending is deeply moving. There are some events I can't write about at all, or, at least, can't write about until many years later. So far, 9/11 remains one of those events for me.

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  2. You nailed it, Brett .... rather than some lament from Batman, Superman or Spiderman, which is what I expected when I read the title, (possibly imposing themselves on the spires spared), you came up with something far more real, reminding us that what we lost, what we were robbed of was a compilation of nature, memories, structure, routine .... that the event even had the audacity to rob us of our ghosts. thank you for writing this,

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