Here is a selection of poems that appeared in The New Yorker in the months after the [September 11, 2001] attacks.
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days, and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew. The nettles that methodically overgrow the abandoned homesteads of exiles. You must praise the mutilated world. You watched the stylish yachts and ships; one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others. You've seen the refugees heading nowhere, you've heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world. Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered. Return in thought to the concert where music flared. You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth's scars. Praise the mutilated world and the gray feather a thrush lost, and the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.
(Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh.) From the issue of September 24, 2001.
(Look closely: the cover is not all black).
To the Words
When it happens you are not there oh you beyond numbers beyond recollection passed on from breath to breath given again from day to day from age to age charged with knowledge knowing nothing indifferent elders indispensable and sleepless keepers of our names before ever we came to be called by them you that were formed to begin with you that were cried out you that were spoken to begin with to say what could not be said ancient precious and helpless ones say it
I saw you walking through Newark Penn Station in your shoes of white ash. At the corner of my nervous glance your dazed passage first forced me away, tracing the crescent berth you'd give a drunk, a lurcher, nuzzling all comers with ill will and his stench, but not this one, not today: one shirt arm's sheared clean from the shoulder, the whole bare limb wet with muscle and shining dimly pink, the other full-sheathed in cotton, Brooks Bros. type, the cuff yet buttoned at the wrist, a parody of careful dress, preparedness— so you had not rolled up your sleeves yet this morning when your suit jacket (here are the pants, dark gray, with subtle stripe, as worn by men like you on ordinary days) and briefcase (you've none, reverse commuter come from the pit with nothing to carry but your life) were torn from you, as your life was not. Your face itself seemed to be walking, leading your body north, though the age of the face, blank and ashen, passing forth and away from me, was unclear, the sandy crown of hair powdered white like your feet, but underneath not yet gray—forty-seven? forty-eight? the age of someone's father— and I trembled for your luck, for your broad, dusted back, half shirted, walking away; I should have dropped to my knees to thank God you were alive, o my God, in whom I don't believe.
I I keep rereading an article I found recently about how Mayan scribes, who also were historians, polemicists, and probably poets as well, when their side lost a war—not a rare occurrence, apparently, there having been a number of belligerent kingdoms constantly struggling for supremacy—would be disgraced and tortured, their fingers broken and the nails torn out, and then be sacrificed. Poor things—the reproduction from a glyph shows three: one sprawls in slack despair, gingerly cradling his left hand with his right, another gazes at his injuries with furious incomprehension, while the last lifts his mutilated fingers to the conquering warriors as though to elicit compassion for what's been done to him: they, elaborately armored, glowering at one another, don't bother to look.
II Like bomber pilots in our day, one might think, with their radar and their infallible infrared, who soar, unheard, unseen, over generalized, digital targets that mystically ignite, billowing out from vaporized cores. Or like the Greek and Trojan gods, when they'd tire of their creatures, "flesh ripped by the ruthless bronze," and wander off, or like the god we think of as ours, who found mouths to speak for him, then left. They fought until nothing remained but rock and dust and shattered bone, Troy's walls a waste, the stupendous Meso-American cities abandoned to devouring jungle, tumbling on themselves like children's blocks. And we, alone again under an oblivious sky, were quick to learn how our best construals of divinity, our "Do unto, Love, Don't kill," could be easily garbled to canticles of vengeance and battle prayers.
III Fall's first freshness, strange: the seasons' ceaseless wheel, starlings starting south, the leaves annealing, ready to release, yet still those columns of nothingness rise from their own ruins, their twisted carcasses of steel and ash still fume, and still, one by one, tacked up by hopeful lovers, husbands, wives, on walls, in hospitals, the absent faces wait, already tattering, fading, going out. These things that happen in the particle of time we have to be alive, these violations which almost more than any altar, ark, or mosque embody sanctity by enacting so precisely sanctity's desecration. These broken voices of bereavement asking of us what isn't to be given. These suddenly smudged images of consonance and peace. These fearful burdens to be borne, complicity, contrition, grief.