For a while, in the newsroom, we stopped
using words like “bomb” and “slaughter”
in sports headlines. We complained
less about micro-managing editors,
weak coffee, system crashes,
incompetence in the composing room,
we pitched in and made our deadlines.
We felt like, no, not quite a family,
but a team, at least. We looked around and were glad
no one in this room believed
in anything with enough fury
to shave his earthly body clean
and plunge us all headlong into the milky fire.
It was an exciting time. We did not pity the planet,
we felt renewed with possibility, knowing
all our best love stories
have a backdrop of crisis, calamity, cholera.
We counted our blessings,
counted our fingers and toes,
counted ourselves lucky
to survive, we felt proud
we were first to see this date as the proper noun
it would become, we were responsible
for its becoming, we were patriotic
because we didn’t flinch
at the risen cost of gasoline. We were resilient.
We kept the Friday Doughnut Club alive, fearing
to do otherwise was to let someone else win,
all we had to do was wait
for time to pass, for a holiday, even a somber one
the kind marked with a slow parade
and black crepe paper,
to be born in tragedy’s muck. Three years,
turns out, suffices for most of us. We made love
and war, we had babies due in June,
we miscarried on Thanksgiving,
football on TV downstairs and our future
bleeding into a cold toilet one purple clot at a time,
our bodies helpless with cramps.
There’s more than one anniversary today.
Twenty years ago in Leicester, England,
before that Monday’s first cup of coffee was gone,
someone unlocked DNA’s inner chamber,
uncovering the unique self
written in that knotted helix,
the double strand that determines
guilt or innocence, that decides before birth
whether we are strong enough
to live in the first place
or to meet death with the angry word
of god burning like jet fuel on our tongues.
"Sept. 11, 2004" appeared in Crab Orchard Revew 13.1 (Winter/Spring 2008).