The Sunday Poem: Margaret Randall... Anniversary

Very few events are known solely by their dates.  Today is the tenth anniversary of one of them.  9-11 shaped the last decade.  And yet, as Margaret Randall concludes, "We who so loudly proclaim we are above the fray / stagger in pits of danger still."


 Albuquerque poet Margaret Randall has published more than 80 books.  Her reputation and influence extend worldwide.  And she contributes in many, many ways to the local poetry scene (including a faithful commenting presence here on the DCF).



So many preface first-person testimony
by mentioning the sky,
how blue it was, what a beautiful morning,
as if invading that loveliness with horror
made the crime more heinous.

On TV screens and in memory the planes
hit those buildings again and again,
tiny human specks trace vertiginous descent
and the great structures themselves

Disbelief hangs in every conversation, first responders
lost with those who cannot escape
a folding in of concrete and steel.
Those who do escape keep running,
chased by a single billowing yellow cloud.

Citizen families put in for compensation
while others inhabit a haunted silence,
impermeable border and walls of photos
call in waning hope: My husband  last seen . . .
my wife who worked on the 80th floor.

Gloating claim to responsibility
sears battered skin,
last cell phone calls, firefighter heroism,
streets lined with makeshift altars:
all those stories giving flesh to supposition.

Nine eleven becomes a Before and After.
Two thousand miles from Ground Zero
I search an empty sky,
the cold anomaly of no flights
and imagined grief that does not leave.

Rubble laced with vaporized humanity,
grotesquery of twisted steel,
one gold wedding ring
and a packet of Marvin Gaye royalty statements
landing on picnickers in Brooklyn.

Clearing that rubble brings new chapters
of illness and denial, how to
move forward, rebuild in the face of a war
between those who seek revenge
and those for whom revenge is prolongation.

The fanatics who took three thousand lives
and brought a country to its knees
win big time and keep on winning
in the crazed response of devious policy,
racist division, unending wars,

missed opportunity for debate,
a shift in direction, solutions
where understanding might have grown.
Holy War begets Holy War.
Now nothing can stop the downward spiral.

Ten years evoke commemoration,
unveil a worthy memorial,
so forth and so on:
all those carefully chosen words
that shape honor and make nothing better.

Precise height of the new spire, wall of names
and water as eternal balm to loss,
while government observes a moment of silence
and asbestos-coated lungs give up
their tired fight.

In Mesa Arizona the Sikh confused for Muslim
falls again before a volley of bullets.
Again the schoolgirl in Little Rock
puts tentative fingers to uncovered hair
where classmates ripped her scarf and laughed.

Hard times lure more young men and women
into a swollen military
and more return in flag-draped boxes
leaving more dead among an enemy
just like them.

Orphans of those murdered on that blue-skied day
return each summer to a camp
where they say they can be themselves, together.
Widows and widowers remarry or don’t.
Skies are filled with planes once more.

A commando of Army Seals finds Bin Laden
in a country of forked tongues
and exacts on-the-spot revenge:
emulating enemies of the American Way
while their commandos multiply.

My poor country, I cradle your tenth anniversary:
loss still aching in our veins, pain crying out
and hate blinding us.
We who so loudly proclaim we are above the fray
stagger in pits of danger still.



Poetry submissions are welcome.  Email

Views: 226

Comment by Sandra Vallie on September 11, 2011 at 8:33am
Thank you, Margaret. I've been struggling and spinning with the media onslaught this past week. It's grounding to ready your poem, with its gentle strength, and remember everything that has unfolded and folded back in on itself, and all of us, beyond boundaries, since "On TV screens and in memory the planes/hit those buildings again and again,/ tiny human specks trace vertiginous descent." And you've reminded me of my work in all of this, my place in our poor country: to "cradle your tenth anniversary:/loss still aching in our veins, pain crying out/and hate blinding us." I'm so grateful this is the first thing I read this morning.
Comment by Jules Nyquist on September 11, 2011 at 10:02am
How appropriate that you are here today with us, Margaret. Thanks for writing this, and especially the last stanza. We "stagger in pits of danger still."  Peace.
Comment by Mr. Potato Head on September 11, 2011 at 12:21pm
What a moving piece!  Thank you for this memorial to that horrible day.  I hope we can soon begin to heal the wounds and climb out of the pits of danger.
Comment by Dee Cohen on September 11, 2011 at 7:33pm
Thank you Margaret for a beautiful contemplation on what our country has endured and what we must do to rise above our differences. Yes, peace. Dee
Comment by Anna Louise Armijo on September 11, 2011 at 7:43pm
I enjoyed reading your poem. Hate blinding us rings so is a sad day.There is so much that blinds us.  That realization is numbing....when will it end.? Thank you for your beautiful poem.
Comment by Margaret Randall on September 11, 2011 at 8:00pm
Thank you Jon, for posting this, and thank you to all those who have commented. I am so tired of the rhetoric, and today was particularly tedious in that regard. But tonight I was fortunate to catch CBS' "Sixty Minutes," which did the single meaningful reportage I've seen on 9/11. It is a two-part piece. The first part is an interview with an ex-FBI interrogator who interviewed the worst of the terrorists and then quit when the U.S. started using torture on them. The second is on an oral history project with first responders and others, started by a doctor who has treated many of them all these years. Both extraordinary pieces, going to the real core of 9/11. I am sure you can get them on line, and highly recommend them.
Comment by John Roche on September 11, 2011 at 8:39pm
Perfectly contextualized, Margaret. Thanks for this counterweight to the hype. It strikes me that the occasional poem that truly bears witness is especially rare compared to the avalanche of commemorative songs and symphonies and poems that are only about evoking our pity and patriotic and religious sentiments, without attempting to instill any real understanding.
Comment by Richard V on September 12, 2011 at 12:59pm
the only 9-11 related activity i succumbed to was watching a documentary of the sikh family that lost two family members to hate crimes shortly after 9-11. one brother killed in phoenix, and a few months later another one shot and killed in san francisico. it was heartbreaking. we can't mourn our dead of 9-11 without acknowledging the many innocents who have lost their lives in the aftermath. we kill them, they kill us, we kill more of them, they kill more of us... the cycle has to stop. great poem, margaret. thanks for words and their poignant meaning and feeling.


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