Cambridge, September 2001
A payload of people phoning home:
their ghost voices linger, caught on tapes,
rewound, rewound, as if listening could summon them
back into themselves. The last hope’s
supplanted now with clinging to a missed
call, replaying it, imagining words —
but what? — equal to the worst
dream which shook itself, woke, cut the cords
binding earth to sky. Now we go
yawing rudderless into our new history.
Were those God’s smouldering hindquarters we saw
between the towers? Or has this mystery,
being human, stunned even God into absence?
Whence cometh my help? The fire engine
pulling from the station winds its sirens
and we fall silent. Psychopaths grin
from their unmarked vans. Around midnight,
a drunk puking at our garden gate sounds
on the verge of detonating. And why not?
Nothing can surprise me. Night drowns
itself in sleeplessness. Then it’s day.
The veiled rain, dread’s dullest minion,
with chilly fingers drums its lullaby
— not real, not real — on the windowpane.
What’s real? Outside, in thin light,
wet lavender relinquishes its scent,
a bruised sweetness rising through the rain.
Passing the open window, caught a moment
by the cool, still smell, I forget
and almost breathe again.
We were living in England when the planes flew into the towers, and I wrote this poem, a pretty fair reflection of my fearful state of mind, in the two or three weeks afterwards.
Grateful acknowledgment is due the editors of First Things, in whose pages this poem first appeared.