September 11, 2016

The Missing


Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know
Within that smoke their ash still falls as snow,
To settle on our flesh like fading stars
Dissolve into sharp sparks at break of day.

At dawn a distant shudder in the earth
Disclosed the flight of fire into steel,
The shaking not of subways underground,
But screams from inside flowers made of flame.

We stood upon the Heights like men of straw
Transfixed by flames that started in the sky,
And watched them plunging down in death’s ballet
Too far removed to hear their falling cry.

By noon that band of smoke loomed low
Upon the harbor’s skin and made us gasp;
A hand of smoke that in its curdled crawl
Kept reaching to extend its lethal grasp.

The harp strung bridge held up ten thousand souls
Who’d screaming run beneath the paws of death,
Like dusted ghosts that lived but were not sure
If they lived in light or only for a breath.

They’d writhed and spun within that storm of smoke
And stumbled out to light and clearer air,
To find upon the river’s further shore
No sanctuary other than despair.

The sirens scraped the sky and jets carved arcs
Within a heaven empty of all hope,
That marked its epicenter with one streak
Of black on polished bone where silver'd stood.

By evening all their ash had settled so
That on the leaves outside my window glowed
Their souls in small bright stars until the rain
Cleaned all of what could not be clean again.

We breathed that smoke that bent and crawled.
We learned to hate that smoke that lingered so.
We knew that blood could only answer blood,
And so we yearned to go but not to go.

Within that city shrines were our resolve.
We placed them where our grief would best anneal.
Upon our walls and trees their faces loomed
To gaze at us from time beyond repeal.

Their last lost summer faded into ash.
Their faces faded into name scratched stones.
Our years flowed into endless desert seas
Where warplanes prowled in search of bones.

In time their smoke and ash became but words
In stories told at dinner, told by rote,
Or in the comments made by magazines
For whom the "larger issues" were of note.

In time their faces faded with the rains,
The little altars thick with wax were scraped,
But still beneath clear plastic they endure
Reminding us that we have not escaped.

Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know.

* For the process of how this came to be written see The Arrival @ AMERICAN DIGEST

Posted by Vanderleun at September 11, 2016 3:51 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Can I nominate you for our next Poet Laureate of the U.S.? Your work, this love-work, is a thing of incredible beauty and sorrow, a proper container for our national memory of that day.

Thank you.


Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at September 10, 2009 1:58 PM

I'm balling my eye's out...Thank you Gerald for one of the most touching poems I've ever felt.

That day shook me to my soul, and you've managed to put my soul's silent screams into words.

I consider finding this site and you, one of the best things that's happened to me.
I thank you again.

Posted by: Patvann at September 10, 2009 3:05 PM

"No sanctuary other than despair."

Poet of terror.

And rage to last us a lifetime.

Posted by: Cathy at September 10, 2009 3:14 PM

Thank you for putting my thoughts and rage into indelible words Gerard.

It compensates for the 45 minutes of disingenuous bullshit that I listened to last night from 'The Leader of The Free World'. He must be removed from office, soonest! Your work should assist in that noblest of aims.

Posted by: Frank P at September 10, 2009 6:11 PM

This is among your best work ever. You should be proud of this one.

Posted by: flannelputz at September 10, 2009 7:10 PM



Posted by: jwm at September 10, 2009 10:49 PM

As some of you may be aware, The Won is seeking to desecrate 9/11 as a "Day of National Service" instead, with the excuse that "We need to move on".

I recall, years ago when we were toppling the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar whining to some journalist that we should "Get over it!".

To which my response must be not only "No!", but "Hell No!!!".

Like many, I was at work on that day, learning of it when co-workers told me to check out CNN on the internet, and watched it play out, watching with horror when the buildings collapsed with so many still inside.

The next day, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, normally a fairly angry liberal, wrote a column ( reproduced at WTC Trbute - We'll Go Forward From this Moment ) in which he observed...

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae -- a singer's revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though -- peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.

Some people -- you, perhaps -- think that any or all of this makes us weak. You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.

And concluded with...

So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange:

You don't know my people.
You don't know what we're capable of.
You don't know what you just started.

But you're about to learn.

THIS is how I'll remember 9/11, for a VERY long time to come.

Posted by: Paul_In_Houston at September 11, 2009 5:47 AM

@JWM - Thank you for posting the words of Leonard Pitts. Gave me goosebumps.

Posted by: Donna Shone at September 11, 2009 9:31 AM


Posted by: Obi's Sister at September 11, 2009 12:27 PM


Thank you for enduring the pain and suffering it takes to give birth to such terrible beauty. Your works, both poetry and prose, grab the hearts and souls of those of us who get them and help us put it all in the proper place. Those who do not appreciate your messages are either ignorant or evil knaves.

Ten years... Who would have thought that at this point our most important and difficult battle would be against the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Take care.


Posted by: Another Old Navy Chief at September 10, 2011 7:55 AM

You are blessed with an amazing gift - thank you for sharing your remembrance with us. I was a few blocks east of the WTC that day and your poem takes me back to the deep pain of 9/11 and all the days that followed.

Posted by: MissLiberty at September 10, 2011 8:14 AM

The evil that unleashed the horror of 9/11/01 has resurfaced in Libya on 9/11/12. It cannot be appeased or reasoned with, and we have spent eleven years on a fools' errand trying to do so.

Posted by: Boots at September 12, 2012 10:12 AM

Q & A with The Lord of Hosts

Q: Well, LoH, how many plagues will you send this time to destroy the slavers and sadists, 10 again?

LoH: For these inhumanes, the answer to your question is, Nein! Eleven, in recognition of their awful deeds and the day it was done. And the eleventh will be beyond all imagining; the first ten will only be unbearable.
This will be compassion in 11 acts, preventing worse catastrophes in the future by these inhumanes.


Posted by: Howard Nelson at September 12, 2014 4:23 PM

Just on a technical note - there are four tetrameter lines among the pentameters. The following lines need an extra beat to fit the metrical pattern:

Stanza 4, line 1

Stanza 9, line 1

Stanza 11, line 4

Posted by: Tadpole at September 12, 2014 6:26 PM

Thanks, Tad. I'll take a look at that.

Posted by: Van der Leun at September 12, 2014 8:37 PM