Sep '02 [Home]
By Degree 365: Year One of 9/11
Feature Anthology:Points of the Circle
Point of Honor
An Arrogance of Windows ~ Jay Chollick | Forgive Me ~ Frank Messina | Point of Honor ~ Nicholas Johnson | Wisdom in Time of War: Kabul ~ Michael Hoerman | Not a War Song ~ Rebecca Seiferle | Tonight a Man Cried ~ Mervyn Taylor
Point-Blank | Point of Disrepair | Distance | Order | Point Resumed
"New York, the 11th (July 26, 1788)"
(ink on paper) © 2002 Big City Lit
So Rustum knew not his own loss, but stood
Over his dying son, and knew him not.
But, with a cold, incredulous voice, he said:—
"What prate is this of fathers and revenge?
The mighty Rustum never had a son."
—Matthew Arnold ("Sohrab & Rustum")
An Arrogance of Windows
Despite the knotted rising
of the slopes, up to their peaks
they seem to me, these Catskills,
the emphatic stone Taconic,
to shrivel, sink into their dwarf beginnings
or fade; the Adirondacks fade.
And cities too, the feeble
I am an arrogance of windows: NYC.
this poem predates 9/11. —Eds.]
~ . ~
Did you see all those yuppies jumping from the buildings?
—Well-dressed English woman at Lancaster Gate, London
Americans will never be free.
—Margaret, an attorney from Newcastle
Forgive me for being an American,
I hope I'm not offending you
with the flag pinned upon my chest
it's a gift from young Latoya, whose small hand I held
beneath the toxic, electrical sunrise of September 12th
as the hopes for her lost Aunt faded
with each empty gurney the ferries brought in
Forgive me for choking on words,
I hope I'm not clouding your tea
with the asbestos of my speech
there's something called "grief"
that hides in every man's heart,
smoldering beneath the
fragile, collapsed floors of his soul
Forgive me for missing your demon-
stration, I'm too busy attending bodiless funerals
of heroes and neighbors,
while your children fill the streets
with bull-horn, pointed blame
I fill sterile, plastic bags
with the blood of my pulsing veins
Forgive me for praying to God,
your cloudy, agnostic skies
offer no comfort to my tired, hungry soul,
there's something called "faith"
that lifts the injured masses
from the depths of yesterday's sadness
giving strength to face another day
Forgive me father Britain,
for understanding the difference
between "Great" and "United,"
there are those who hate America
not for our freedom and brevity
but for the ugliness that we
unfortunately inherited from you
(from Disorderly Conduct, Wasteland Press, 2002)
~ . ~
Point of Honor
If I loved honor more, there'd be more dead people.
My father's shotgun would have been used,
not just on himself or as an impressive wall ornament.
If I loved honor more, there'd be more people hurt
for stupid reasons. My wife would have been shot
in the act, her lover in the back, all
because of an exchange of bodily fluids.
Yes, she'd have come to me with her legs and knees
all bandaged up, asking for money and forgiveness —
the things I'm running out of. If I loved honor more,
I'd have done my full stint in my jet fighter,
shot anything that moved, and not felt bad about it.
I'm still not clear on all the points of honor.
I was stupid for a long time — longer than I was married,
longer than I hoisted a flag. Take a look around. Look
how many are dead. If honor had been involved,
there would have been more fisticuffs; duels; seconds.
Honor has made people happier than alcohol.
Hell, if honor were really involved, there would no World
Trade Center left at all. No business as usual. Me,
I'm sick of bodily fluids and scrapings things off
after C-4's done its work. I'm sick of the air
that insults our lungs, and all that's thrown at us
on the evening news. We should know better than to
consume ourselves and moralize. Thank God for death.
The ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes
we don't even know. The enemy is a shadowy character.
There are too many silent partners. Buddy, I know
because I was one of them for a long time. Like most men,
I've borne my share of coffins down, but if I had to
choose, I'd rather listen to a band no one had to march to.
(Prior publ. Poetry Wales. Predates 9/11.)
~ . ~
Wisdom in Time of War
When the city was sacked
There was great celebration.
Children ran in the streets,
Relishing the playground of delirious upheaval.
Young women removed sullen veils,
Their cheeks flush with possibility.
But the old women watch, unmoved, saying
Expressionless and monotone.
The old women know that a change in the wind
Should be cautiously acknowledged,
But not hastily challenged.
They know that the power of the storm it brings
Cannot be gauged by the smell it carries
Or the image it conjures.
They know that when a match is lit and burns up
That may be the end of it. Or,
The fire it ignites may burn for many years.
They know, too, that in attics, basements and hidden rooms
Young men sharpen knives with bravado
While old men prepare tourniquets.
The old men know that any hesitation with the knife
Will bring the need for the tourniquet.
The old men know
There will be much hesitation.
~ . ~
Not a War Song
Why should I, searching the thesaurus
for synonyms for "chant" and "cadence,"
try to make various and alive the unremitting
noise of war? Army cadence, battle chant,
if the behavior's unique to our species,
the bird or whale or wolf uttering only a single
song (though I'm not sure that I believe
this when all the wolves my neighbor owns
start howling to a police siren), the words of war
are as dull as the armor of the ruthless
Diomedes who stalked the goddess of love
to drive her from what had been the fields
and green pastures of Troy, now decimated
to an excremental slab of mud and limbs.
He pierced her veil of stars and fog to slash
her hand where bone meets palm. So war
is dependent for its reason and its revenge
upon anecdotes of wounding someone's
lovely form, and the poet must be a solitary
singer (not necessarily nightingale, perhaps
common wren or western meadowlark,
its voice tightening across the distance),
singing a bleak and lonely beauty against
the commonality of war.
~ . ~
Tonight A Man Cried
When he saw the plume of smoke go skyward
When he saw the devastation done
To the trees, how they became sad and stunted
When he saw the face of the desert and the crater
The bomb had left
When he turned the page of his paper
And read the name of a woman whose boyfriend had
Beaten her to death and left her toddlers playing and
Lifting her eyelids when he heard that men
had suffocated in airless containers
It reminded him of the transportation of slaves below deck
And he could not get up and go to sleep next to
His wife, not right away. Instead he sat stiffly
In the chair with his feet straight out afraid to let them
Touch the floor, and he cried soundlessly in the dark
Of his living room. And he thought of the effort
He had put into collecting the things that stood between him
And the wall of his house, of the wireless space that connected him
To his children and relatives, of the civilization
Built of stones and ideas and molecules
That if the world were to bump accidentally into
Any other would collapse more easily than all our dreams.
And our enemies would be lying with us, piled in a pyramid
With his wife, as he heard her turn in sleep, somewhere in
An inner chamber, breathing the smoke and whispering something
He could no longer hear.
Point-Blank | Disrepair | Distance | Order | Point Resumed