Tag Archives: 9/11 processing

Blue Cow

When the first plane took off,
began its approach, 
I was a blue cow. 

When it struck the tower,
I was still a blue cow as
I felt my tongue seize
around my cud and then
I fixed my big liquid eyes
upon it happening,

but I was still a blue cow
all the way through the vision
of how some people became
bad birds flying down the sides
of the buildings, and then

I was a red ember wolf and then
a scarlet flame wolf and then I saddened
into gray all over.  I don’t have a name

for the animal I became then,
other than it was an animal that
felt all the others it had been
and longed to go back to being
an absurd blue cow,

and all the days since have been
a play in which a gray being, scaly
and remote, has stared at an audience
who believe with all their hearts
that they are seeing a blue cow
when they stare back.


A Limb In The Street

A limb on the guardrail.
Appears to be a leg. We can’t
quite grasp what we see
and drive on wondering

until the evening paper
tells the tale of the man
whose homemade bomb went off
as he was lifting it from his trunk

to plant it next to the strip joint
where he’d been burned in a 
shady deal, maybe drug related,
I don’t recall, so long ago now;

that past has slipped all the way
into this present, as it always does.
Now all I have of that is that
I saw it, and others saw it;

the bumper resting upon the median strip,
smell of burning flesh seeping into
the car — now I understand how
I recognized that smell in New York

the minute it hit me, the roast sweetness
mingled with sickness, and so the past again
comes back to present itself like a limb
in the street, something I’m not sure

I’m better for knowing, not all wisdom’s
good wisdom, some of it never goes
back into the past. Who exactly
is better for having seen

a limb, a burned limb, in their street?

On A Killing: May 1, 2011

Originally posted 5/2/2011.

I’m not embarrassed to say
that I can acknowledge
the hyena in me and say
with only a little shame
that I’m glad he’s dead.

I’m not embarrassed to say
you embarrass me
by choosing from among
so few sides
when there are so many
to choose from
when looking at this.

I’m looking at you
with your flag and your beer
and your three-letter chant
and your brave,
brave sneer.

I’m looking at you
with your Truth fliers
and your semi-conscious racist

no way those brown bastards could have done that to us.

I’m looking at you
reciting the ritual retelling
from the teleprompter
to make sure
we feel enough fear
to fall into joy
upon clinical description
of the wet work involved.

I’m looking at you
beat down by deceit
for so many years
you won’t believe a thing
till you can personally stick
your oft-betrayed fingers
in the bullet holes
and now you won’t get the chance
so you won’t believe anything, 
anything at all.

I look at myself in a long tall mirror,
wondering if I
look much as I did
ten years ago.  I can’t imagine
I do.  I have taken in all 
that’s being said, and
it feels like shrapnel
remodeling me.

And then, because I must,
I’m finally looking at him —
thinking of how it must have been;
surprised at first,
then not at all,
then blind and deaf and
dead.  See his skin 
scraped for samples,  
see the corpse
slipped into a body bag,
see it all slide into the sea,
his body breaking surface
and sinking into a singularity
that will suck us in
for a long time yet.

I don’t know if I can ever
disbelieve in karma,
but I try. Am I supposed
to forgive? They say it’s 
healthy and healing. I try to forgive,
but I don’t know how — 

it comes out every time
as the scream
of a hyena.


Originally posted 7/12/2003.  The OLDEST poem on this blog, though not even remotely my oldest poem.

There’s a hole in me the size of a departing flight.
Something taxis up to my edge and takes off,
flying out of me toward a horizon.

Not that I can see that horizon;
that’s just what planes are supposed to fly into these days. 
It used to be the wild blue yonder that planes

flew into, but no one thinks planes are that wild anymore —
they seem to us more like stale buses
full of cranky people eating meals

that never fill them,
in precisely the same way
that nothing fills me now. 

Somehow I keep thinking 
even after my mind falls into this hole
and disappears.

I keep thinking that I’m going to rise
and follow that vapor trail into the blush,
catch up to the flight before the sun goes down.

You’d think I’d know better by now.
I ought to know better by now. I ought to be able
to figure this one out.  Some flights

are just lost. You can’t catch
a plane that has been lost, 
not by thinking.

Not Unexpected

there was a sudden problem
it was not unexpected
I was ready
I did not cry 

though flags flew half mast
over shopping malls
and hospitals
government buildings
and schools

a problem
neither obviously
surmountable nor

I did not cry

though we walked about
for a long time after
heads down
not listening
glazed over in grief

a problem
neither unexpected
nor unique
to others
nor common
among us
still I did not cry

though it was 
immense in scope
wide and deep and tall
all at once
I did not cry

not unexpected

except for how long after its first appearance
it has lasted
how long its false solutions
have been cast as either/or
how stubbornly it clings
to tiny crevices in all things

I still do not cry
but only because
it appears 
that it has sealed my eyes
clogged me
dessicated me

how unexpected
to have been slowly murdered
by this lack of tears

Dragonflies In The Face Of Logic

I’m all about 
logic these days — it comes from

working so hard to forget that moment
four dragonflies landed near me

as I sat with a stranger
and mourned four dead people

on the anniversary of their death.
He hadn’t moved on and I kept thinking

we had little in common, I had no need to move on now,
really, I’d moved on almost completely

except for the one bad memory
I was here to exorcise.

When the dragonflies landed,
one at a time,

on the bench next to us,
I held my breath and pointed them out

to him and put an arm around his shoulder
as he cried, as I did not; if it made him feel better

that was good though it meant nothing to me, really,
it might have once but now, nothing, really.

Insects, avatars, signs from on high;
agreements the universe seems to offer you:

steer clear if you don’t want to faint in public
all the time from the barrage of messages.

Stick with logic.  They died, they’re dead,
you’re here, they’re not.  Dragonflies are 

useful for pest control.  Lovely
to look at and plentiful, if you look.

Safe Space

when I drive into a city near an airport
and (through what I always hope
is some trick of perspective)
see a long-winged plane appearing to aim itself
at a tall building

I feel something shrivel inside

I do not know which organs shrink

but I know that one organ
that does not shrink
is my heart
that is too full of old blood
to diminish so
it wouldn’t be safe to be around me
if it were to compress so

all I know is that suddenly there’s a contraction
and though nothing’s being born
there is a void where there was something
a clearing left inside
by a drawing back of everything else

while it refills more quickly than it once did
it still takes a while to feel right again

it can’t be good that my innards are so terrified of an illusion
it can’t be good that after each incident I ask myself

what is safety

there’s one video out there of that first strike in New York City
taken by chance by a crew filming something else
I’ve only seen it once
I can’t watch it again without that same void opening within
I know what I would see
I would see once again my coworkers dying
I don’t need to see that
I turn my head instead
toward the farce of a safe space

what is safety

what is safety to those who came through not as survivors
but as beaten witnesses
to those who came through such times
with scars we are ashamed to admit we bear

because really what did we see
what in fact happened to us
compared to others

nothing happened to us
nothing happened to me

except now my organs collapse and expand
I go from hollow to bursting in seconds
I don’t ever feel safe for very long

what is safety

we went back to work
in the building with the empty desks
we put televisions in every corner
in case there was all at once an announcement
of an explanation
televisions on at all times in every corner
we walked around for months in there
with the televisions on

we went back to the building
after we sang for our dead
and the children of our dead
we thought of them as our dead
built a wall for them near the parking lot
built a wall and a garden
where the music is always on

years later in that building
the televisions are still on
all set to the news
waiting for the announcement
of an explanation
that will never come

those few of us who remain
from the days when we walked around that building
as if possessed by those who had seen what lay beyond
speak only to each other of those times
as we would like to speak of them

when we are asked by those
who were not there
we talk a different way
because it feels that
no matter how many people

are present
the teller
is in fact
the only listener 

sometimes I have to go outside
to get away from it all
and talk myself solid again

out there I am reminded that

the honeybees are vanishing
as are the monarchs
as are the long winged albatrosses
and who knows
what the world is meant to look like now
or where the safe spaces are

what is safe or sacred
what is worth cherishing
when honeybees and monarchs are vanishing
and the long-winged albatrosses might disappear

when someone asks me
what it was like

a dead weight
on my neck
squeezes a story out of me
in an affectless voice
with eyes set dead ahead
leaving a void
same way every time

I saw it all

still see it all
the broken walls

the broken birds
again and again
the birds

fly into the walls
the bird
flies into the wall
the bird
falls into the field

is there a place where
those long winged birds
land safely

how far ahead
is an end

long winged albatrosses
fly almost endlessly
only landing to feed
or die

is the only benefit
of extinction  

Double Time

marching double time
to judgment
the all-american way


blame the left
blame the right
left to blame
right to blame

the right to blame
we have the exclusive
right to blame

to choose
from whoever is
left to blame 

it’s a point of privilege
the right to blame
to be able to point fingers
a point of privilege
to be comfortable
assigning blame

stop it too soon get a grip shut up and
think first of the victims
and not anything else

they tell me to feel instead of think but

I don’t have tanks full of what it takes
to do that anymore

they tell me to think
about the victims but

too much casual death, etc.

they want to tell me something but

I’m deaf
one too many blast waves

they tell me to report
anything suspicious
which is what I’m doing here
there were bombs and suddenly
everything is suspicious so
heigh ho
heigh ho
off to hate we go
a quick march to judgment

double time
to a killing place
with a wall
and six guns 

when I said that
you saw the scene

I can only hope
you saw yourself

staring into the open barrels
with your back to the wall


On Your “Political” Poem About Something I Actually Lived Through

You’re insulted enough to swear
when you realize I don’t care
that you tried to empathize
with the dark behind my eyes.

I am sorry you’re insulted;
next time I’ll bet I’m not consulted.
Easier to be outraged
if your anger can’t be upstaged.

Please, write on what you feel.
Even if it’s not quite real.
If you want to emote, do;
just be sure it’s about you.

The Towers, The Pile, The Hole

Because hope
is more important
and harder for me to hold
I will hold hope

on this day when
again and unlooked for
all my brain can talk about is
The Hole

In this life I’ve been up close to
The Towers
The Pile and
The Hole

I recall The Towers
I can still smell The Pile
I don’t know how to fill in
the blank that I feel

for The Hole
For its emptiness
For its open core
in the chugging tip of Manhattan

For that first trip
to the city afterward
when I was lost upon approach
because the skyline had a Hole

Some days
you open the book
and hope is everywhere
All over the pages

All you have to do is wipe away
the extra and leave just enough
and you’ve got something
the people will want to read

But today The Book
fell into the Hole
again and I have nothing
but Hope

if I want
to stop falling
(and I want
to stop falling)


An old poem.  Someone was looking for it.  Here it is.

This Monday night bar in Union Square
is loud enough to allow for intimacy.
You have been here for hours when a co-worker, 

who is also the woman you’ve been seeing,
who has also been sitting across from you all this time,
rises from the table and turns toward the door.

You catch a glimpse
of a tattoo on her back, 
visible between the shirt and the belt.

It stretches from hipcrest to hipcrest
as if she had sprouted 
low-slung wings.

Her skin, her body, her message — now your sudden burden;
she has just recently inked this code for
escape upon herself, but 

you never noticed it until
she stopped listening 
to you.

She leaves the bar,
moving away from the sound of your voice
out into the night ‘ and you know she’s thinking that 

though your words, like stones, were clearly born in fire, 
though you have tumbled them a long time between your water heart and your earth tongue
to make them cool and gleaming and edgeless,

as if all that labor had meant nothing 
you took and tossed the once-burning words at her
through the air, and it felt like hail in July.

She is longing for flight, but how will she ever rise
when you keep burying her 
under such a tumble of dead things?

Inside her 
a stone is growing where her heart once was. You know
she believes now that you will not be the one to move it.

She is gone, but you drink for another hour. 
On your own cab ride home, you begin to plot a path 
toward the cracking of her heart. Your dreams burn and spin all night.

Next day, awake at 6 AM.
Thin clouds beam in the dawn,
slip by the window.
In them, her face: and then you see her face become 
the face behind the voice of heaven. 

There have been many things 
in your life that were 
seen once or many times 
and unremembered 
until they were needed. 
A ripple on a lakebed, 
a patch of wrinkled layers in old stone,
some tree bent and gnarled into a twist ‘ waiting
until they could give meaning 
to something else. 
Her face last night, 
seen so many times before,
was like that. 
You saw it and now
you hear secret voices,
voices heard solely in the body, 
saying that
revelation exists 
in a simple trace of 
transcendence – even inside 
the skin and eyes 
of someone you think you know.

Before now, you certainly would not have called out to God when thinking of her. 

Now your brain slides into that way of being — 
now you say, alone in your bedroom,
what you have learned: 

it exists, 
it certainly exists,
a way of living, 
a holy space that only another body can make real —

and because you will not call it 
‘being in God’,
you will call it 
‘being in love’. 

You have never felt like this 
before work before –
ready to pray all the way up to the 
forty-fifth floor.

By Tuesday noon 
you have run back down 
forty- five floors,
you’ve learned thousands 
of new names for God, 
crying them all 
as you run from the thunder, 
fleeing stone 
and powder 
and shock.

The running itself is a kind of prayer
that she is running too,
or watching this happen from elsewhere, 
one hand on her mouth, tears 
leaving trails in the white, 
awful dust on her cheeks.

Your running is a prayer that she still can fly.

You kick in the television at 9:30 PM.

You have not spoken for hours, staring at the phone, waiting for it to ring, waiting.
You close all the blinds while waiting, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting.
You wish you could drink but everything tastes like suicide. 
A pill forms in your hand while you wait, wait for the phone, waiting.
A pill washes down past the scratch and raw breath of your coughing. 
A pill makes you lucid in the face of delusion long enough to realize
that someone really is at the door, it’s your landlord, just arrived, 
all the roads closed, been waiting for hours in the lines,
waiting, checking up on all of his tenants, tells you
the towers are gone, the towers for the cell phones are gone, 
no calls coming in or out, no calls, 
all those hours waiting, 
air filled with voices in tears, 
in arrest, in thrombosis, in embolism, 
waiting, waiting, with crush injuries, 
burns, inhalations, rages, fevers,
blames and names and hatreds,
silences and understandings, moments gone with
all the bodies newly torn, flung, 
sundered, crushed, and cindered;
all the memories and the bearers of the memories 
waiting to get through, 
hoping to reinflate, 
to reanimate, 
to be reborn:

while you’re still 

Wednesday, driving north from the city before dawn toward New England
to stay with friends. It’s mid September, nearly time for the leaves 
to come off the trees in one last burst of flame. 
The day looks like it is going to be

You are trying to remember yesterday morning’s dream of her,
how it felt to rest in the moment of knowing
she could leave you. You linger on one small moment of it:
the moment of not caring where she was, 
as long as she was out there somewhere, 
as long as she was happy. 
You called it love then, 
but now you know it was God, 
that moment of being without attachment to the result 
was something you could call God. 
a name you could hang 
on the moment,
a name you’ll cling to 
though it has become hard to say because
it does not include enough syllables 
to describe the fact

that you didn’t bother to bring your cell phone with you this morning,
that you did not leave a message on hers before you left.

At a rest stop outside Waterbury
you pull over.
Maybe you fall asleep. 
It isn’t important ?
what matters is that 
suddenly all around you
the earth is pushing up geodes
by the thousands.
You pick one up and it cracks in your hands,
spilling oceans of ancient, limed water,
soaking your hands with salt and 
the flakes of 
long concealed

She is suddenly there,
watching you weep, 
and as she rises from the ground 
she tells you:

keep moving

there are more names 
for God 
than any of us ever 
could have 

Never Forget

Humble home
growing out of any landscape
in any era.

Land grabbers’ bullets
course bouncing through and

A man comes running,
shooting, alone,
just to fall anyway.

The rest in their imminent 
targets, wondering if it is better
to stay and wait.

west upon
the Middle Passage.

A stirring
the cargo. 

Then, overboard:
a man,
a woman, two children.

The rest below,
if this would be better.

Two assertions
of ownership
pushing into the sky.

First one retort,
then another,
buckling them. 

Now, abandoning them,
come many.  Hard to say
who from here; they are trying to fly.

The rest inside, choking,
if this would be better.

There is
tragedy built into
the support of this world.

The owners
are the only ones
temporarily immune,

and the owners
change.  Always,
the owners change.

Do not

Do not forget
how the illusion
may break. 

Do not forget
the silver grace
of escape.  

Do not forget
the red joy
of resistance. 

Do not forget
that you may be
called upon.

Do not forget
your freedom 
to choose.

Ten Years

You  are going to make it
whatever you need it
to be:

fireballs for patriotism,
two fingers raised on high
before folding,
heroes and victims and flags
and lies, dust,
gold salvaged for tacky coins,
bones, parts, mysteries, 
excuses for more and more
of the same, souvenirs,
graveyard tourism, shining
city in a hole, just another day,
a beautiful early fall day, 
no clouds, warm enough,
a promise of a good fall,
feeling special, all the world
a stage for the next delicious act, then
sandbags cut loose, damn, 
it’s a damn horror flick, must be,
let’s rewrite the script, let’s 
animate it, 3-D it, make it
part of your movie —

oh, for a bit of rest.
For a pillow, a clean pillow,
and a night not bugged 
by listeners. A night that turns into
a good morning, a start to a lifetime
where nothing ever happens again
and days follow nights
that contain nothing but sheep
and sleep and waking up
in familiar arms.


Not This Year

not this year
I will let go
I will face planes and towers falling
yes to friends lost there
and no to
being told
compelled to recall
every damn detail
in service to
overwrought agendas

how many houses
in how many countries have fallen
and no one remembers them

how many terrors are there
to tame

how many names unspoken
on bitter tongues

no exceptions

mourn the dead long enough
you mourn yourself into the holes
left behind
it’s a long climb out

I am climbing

damn the demand for excruciating recall
I want to forget everything
except how my friends smiled
and that all over the world
for far longer than ten years
everyone else has always known
death makes no exceptions
for the flags people die under

On A Killing: May 1, 2011


I’m not embarrassed to say
I’m glad he’s dead.
I acknowledge the hyena in me.


I’m not embarrassed to say
you embarrass me
by choosing from among
so few sides
when there are so many
to choose from
when looking at this.

I’m looking at you
with your flag and your beer
and your three-letter chant
and your brave,
brave sneer.

I’m looking at you
with your Truth fliers
and your semi-conscious racist

no way those brown bastards

could have done that to us.

I’m looking at you
reciting the ritual retelling
from the teleprompter
to make sure
we feel enough fear
to fall into joy
upon clinical description
of the wet work involved.

I’m looking at you
beat down by deceit
for so many years
you won’t believe a thing
till you can personally stick
your oft-betrayed fingers
in the bullet holes
and now you won’t get the chance
so you won’t believe anything,
anything at all.

And yes, I’m looking at him —
first surprised, then not at all,
then blind and deaf and
dead.  See him slid into
a body bag, his skin scraped,
see it all slide into the sea,
his body breaking surface
and sinking into a singularity
that will suck us in for a long time

I end up looking at myself
in a tall, tall mirror.

I’m wondering if I
look much as I did
ten years ago.  I can’t imagine
I do.  I take in all
that’s being said, and
it feels like shrapnel’s
remodeling me.

I don’t know how not to believe
in karma, but I try
by seeking to know all
the names of God, for I know
you can only expect God to answer
if you say them all at once.
I don’t know how to do that. When I try,
it just comes out
as the scream of a hyena.