Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poems to live by...

On the eve of 9/11, a few poems...

Survivors--Found by Joan Murray

We thought that they were gone--
we rarely saw them on our screens--
those everyday Americans
with workaday routines,

and the heroes standing ready--
not glamorous enough--
on days without a tragedy,
we clicked--and turned them off.

We only saw the cynics--
the dropouts, show-offs, snobs--
the right- and left- wing critics:
we saw that they were us.

But with the wounds of Tuesday
when the smoke began to clear,
we rubbed away our stony gaze--
and watched them reappear:

the waitress in the tower,
the broker reading mail,
a pair of window washers,
filling up a final pail,

the husband's last "I love you"
from the last seat of a plane,
the tourist taking in a view
no one would see again,

the fireman, his eyes ablaze
as he climbed the swaying stairs--
he knew someone might still be saved.
We wondered who it was.

We glimpsed them through the rubble:
the ones who lost their lives,
the heroes' doubleburials,
the ones now "left behind,"

the ones who rolled a sleeve up,
the ones in scrubs and masks,
the ones who lifted buckets
filled with stone and grief and ash:

some spoke adifferent language--
still no one missed a phrase;
the soot had softened every face
of every shade and age--

"the greatest generation" ?--
we wondered where they'd gone--
they hadn't left directions
how to find our nation-home:

for thirty years we saw few signs,
but now in swirls of dust,
they were alive--they had survived--
we saw that they were us.

*****

"Time does not bring relief..." by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--so with his memory they brim!
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!


*********

PAX by D.H. Lawrence


All that matters is to be at one with the living God
To be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world,
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.



2 comments:

Rev. Kurt said...

These poems are from Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times edited by Joan Murray.

An excerpt from her introduction:

"...the attack on the World Trade Center...left me, like most people, overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of loss. A few days later, in the cafe car of a train, I met six young firemen on their way to New York to dig at the wreckage site. They were nervous--and excited. We all knew it was unlikely that survivors would be found, and silently we understood what their task would be. Yet by coming forward to do this very difficult thing, they had stepped across some line and had become larger than themselves. They seemed to be lit from within.

I realized they were people my parents' generation would have recognized--the sort of people who'd been missing from "the scene." Yet now, with all the footage of the victims, survivors, and rescue workers, people like them--who went about their lives, did their jobs, and cared deeply about one another and this nation--were suddenly visible again.

I went back to my seat and began a poem, "Survivors--Found." It shout out of me, in ballad form, like someone spontaneously leaping up to sing. Emerson would have said the poem was hovering out there, and it was my task to pull it down. It was clearly an occasional poem, admittedly not a great poem. But it had the force of an inevitable poem, as if someone needed it.

Someone needed to see that despite the loss of thousands of brave, generous, everyday people, many more like them had been found--right next door.

Four days after I wrote it, I read "Survivors--Foune" on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. At once, phone calls, leters, and messages began pouring in. Thousands of strangers were contacting me to thank me, or they were hitting the NPR website or the website of the writers institute where I work. Most wanted copies so they could read it to others.....

I was moved by these people's urgent and unembarrassed need for a poem--for words that cut through all the pages and pages of reportage (so they told me) and addressed their anxiety and deep sense of loss. ......."

Rev. Kurt said...

Cloths of Heaven by WB Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.