I wanted to do something for 9/11. The poem below was published in Small Spiral Notebook not long after the tragedy. I have purposely not revised it.
World Trade Center Kaddish
America, your confidence is shaken.
Though patriots say your resolve is steeled,
we now know steel melts at 1500 degrees.
In the ground are empty sockets.
Some say "The chickens have come home to roost,"
like Malcom X after Kennedy's death.
Some say, "Forgive, don't bomb the innocent."
Debris fill the cavities.
Myself, I hated the towers'
garish imposition on space
but we can't always choose our symbols.
Still, I won't buy a tee shirt.
Build it and they will come,
Blow it up and they will die.
Do you hear James Earl Jones' voice?
He's the real voice of America:
Verizon local and international.
What should we put in his mouth now?
"Be comforted, America,
you will not weep forever.
Temper your fervor with grave introspection.
Remember rain falls on the just and the unjust
and a rich man rarely enters heaven."
America, you are not a Christian nation
for there are no Christian nations.
Christ said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
His kingdom was not attacked.
But how should we respond?
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing.
Better nothing than slaughter innocents.
America, if you must do something,
do something audacious:
"If you sin, sin boldly," Martin Luther said.
But let the innocents first know,
let pamphlets rain from the sky
and overwhelm the lie
that we are the enemy.
We come against all isms
America are you awake yet?
War is messy, the innocent die.
America, are you sure
you still have the stomach for this?
Black woman in white face.
Is this Pompeii?
No-- nothing is preserved.
What happened to the skyline?
Manhattan's pillars imploded
and Samson's hair was jet exhaust
The lions still flank the midtown library
but offer us no riddles.
Fire has made us one:
The ash survivors wear
contains the victims.
Have mercy, O God.
Someone cut a slice out of the Pentagon,
black smoke coughs incinerated braids.
Worse is the memory
of space no longer occupied,
where sudden ghosts are left
with nothing real to haunt
save vacant air and a pit of debris.
How many ways are there of not approaching
this atrocity, this national violation?
America, you have been put in stocks
for all the world to see.
Feel the whip of the turbaned Puritans?
Maybe nobody cares about us rich Americans
but even a lion gets hungry.
I fear for you, Saddam.
I fear for you, Iran.
I fear for you, Afghanistan.
We do not hate your people
but "a fly makes the perfumer's ointment stink."
To succor means complicity
and it is hard just to remove the fly.
Savagery grinds the human heart
to a flint too dull to spark.
War makes monsters of good men:
How much more the evil ones!
Good-night, Lieutenant Calley.
And never presume that people fight
for the right cause for the right reason.
Used car salesmen all,
buffeted by opinion, suspended
between the profit and the loss.
I have two cars, two computers,
two televisions and an ocean view.
They have clay huts and a copy of the Koran.
I did not get here by accident. Did they?
I should stop watching TV and read the Bible,
I suppose, wherein Job utters:
"What I greatly feared has come upon me."
But I am too angry and astonished to concentrate.
When I took my Pakistani friend
to a Gay Pride Parade, he said,
"Back home we'd simply
line 'em up and shoot 'em."
Does God bless Pakistan, even Afghanistan?
His rain falls on the just and the unjust.
I am proud of Flight 93
but I can't understand
the others' timidity.
With a flotation pillow for a shield
and an oxygen cylinder for a club
those ignorant fanatics
could not have withstood me.
(Note to my Pakistani friend:
one hero of Flight 93 was gay.)
For whom shall we die?
For you, America?
For God? For Allah? For country?
How does one die for his country?
Isn't that too abstract?
America, you are an ideal
and a very imperfect incarnation.
We can only die for freedom
else live in slavery.
I want to cleanse my mind of television,
do a hard-disk wipe of talking heads
whose earnestly raised brows
bring twenty-four-hour dissection:
the importance of being earnest.
America, turn off your televisions.
Grieve with the living for the dead
who are more than information,
more human than ourselves even,
having achieved mortality first,
the destiny that most unites us.
To die for freedom
is the ultimate freedom.
To murder in the name of God
is the ultimate slavery.
It is not about religion,
it is about fanaticism.
As C.S. Lewis wrote,
"Whatever becomes a god
becomes a demon."
I have seen the doll's-eyes of young cultists
chanting sacred syllables in the street,
invoking angels, posing beatific from a holy brainwashing.
If you meet the living God
I do not think he will ask
about the angel of destruction
(who measures righteousness
with an abacus) or how many bodies
he put to sleep before bedtime.
In heaven terrorists may be located
only with great difficulty
in hell's Classifieds.
I have an Iranian barber.
He cut my father's hair before mine.
If I stop by during business hours
and the chairs are empty
I know he's praying
so I get a magazine and listen
to the hummed prayers from the back room.
He beams when showing me
pictures of his grandchildren,
dark-eyed, dark-haired, like him.
He is a good man.
I've scattered the ashes
of my parents in the Pacific
but I knew whose ashes they were.
"The greatest forensic undertaking in history"
I know we all want relics--
perfectly understandable in grief--
but does our obsession with bones
too much confirm our materialism?
No mass grave and memorial
with a common belief in heaven
will ever suffice.
Is there no emperor
but the emperor of death's dream?
Yet America is not the Great Satan.
Islam is not the Great Satan.
Israel is not the Great Satan.
Iraq is not the Great Satan.
The Great Satan is an -ism
as in, "My security depends
on my trust in an absolute truth
to make sense of the world.
and I will defend it to the death
because I cannot face the terror,
the terror of doubt true faith requires.”
If America indulged in terrorism
we could blow up the moon.
The effects on earth's orbit, tides and climate
could subsequently be classified as natural:
no increase in pollutants,
just floods, volcanoes, earthquakes,
maybe an ice age or two.
Think of how the moon's absence
would alter the skyline
and how little credit men and nations
receive for what they don't do.