In Memory of 9/11

9:11

It happens this way …

Here, a Holding On 

for New York City

October 1, 2001

 

Twenty days of barricades

and twos and threes pause

on Chambers Street –

business suits, backpacks, hoodies,

uniforms in every shape.

No one pontificates

over vacant desks and pews,

tear-wet beds, fire stations gone,

bone fragments searching for home.

 

Here, they’re awed.

Tower shadows fled.

The first time in thirty years

Village streets and living rooms,

store fronts with their sidewalk signs,

responders struggling with ash

bathe in sun. They bathe in the sun.

 

Here, light takes hold

and I, a stranger from 3,000 miles west,

grab a subway strap,

head to an uptown hotel

to write this down.

 

August 7, 2017

Here, breaking news:

DNA defines one more loss.

(Male. Unnamed. Per family request.)

Who’s left?

Eleven hundred twelve gathered

in dusty dark, sharing thoughts

they thought as shadows dissolved.

Comparing notes on deals signed,

dinners served, dreams deferred

for the practicalities of work,

little words unsaid.

 

Here, holding on –

each to each –

until they’re freed from this room

where they’ve agreed

on the coarsest truth:

closure is a myth.

 

The Theology of Not-Yet

It happens this way …

index.aspxI just finished reading Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner, the author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Each chapter was a revelation about God’s nature, Nature’s nature, and human nature that stopped me in my tracks. Admittedly, I will have to go back and read the book again in order to internalize the wisdom and Biblical insights of this compassionate rabbi who writes to the heart as well as to the mind.

But for now, I wanted to share the book’s closing words. They  brought me to tears. Given the political and theological insanity that has been ripping apart our nation, I needed to hear these words:

               This world is not the world God intended it to be. Some human beings have made it  worse and continue to do so, while others have made and are making it better. I am sustained by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., quoting Theodore Parker, an abolitionist who died in 1860: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” And it bends toward honesty and toward forgiveness and toward generosity.

Kushner aptly calls this perspective the “theology of not-yet.”

One of the lessons I learned when we visited Philadelphia in July was that the vision of the Founding Fathers – so revolutionary, so world-shaking for its time – was still evolving in the not-yet history of America.

The huge sign on the side of the American Jewish History Museum was a poignant reminder of that fact. Writing to the Jewish community in Newport, RI, in 1790, George Washington said, “Happily the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

DSC08485

Today, all I can summon up is “not-yet, not-yet” while cultivating the hope that we will all bend toward honesty, forgiveness, and generosity so it “will be” in a future we are creating together.

 

 

 

Beware of staring ducks

It happens this way …

QU10COVERHALF-1-800x1200Yesterday I received my paperback copy of the summer issue of QU, a literary magazine published by Queens University of Charlotte, NC. I knew they had accepted a poem of mine, but wasn’t aware it had already been posted in a digital version on May 19.

Anyway, what I want to share today is how persistent inspiration can be when it won’t let go of you. The poem is called “Anatidaephobia.” Huh? That mouthful means having an irrational fear of being stared at by a duck. Double huh?!

This word was coined by Gary Larson in this Far Side cartoon.

Far Side

The set-up is hilarious and so is the made-up word

However, I didn’t see Larson’s cartoon initially. Rather, while I was watching a You-Tube interview with the incredible Judy Dench, she used the word off-handedly. At first I couldn’t understand what she was saying, so I played the video back several times and guessed at its spelling. By now I was hooked and was compelled to find out more about it.

People often ask writers and artists where they get ideas for their work. In this case it was happenstance – coming across the Dench video – combined with sleuthing to find Larsen’s cartoon, and then weeks of hard work shaping the poem into images that played with the original definition and then expanded it to be more universal.

The fact is from childhood on, I hated being stared at. I could feel myself blush whenever I walked into a room – whether it was a classroom as a student, a party with people I didn’t know, or a department store when I was approached by a salesperson. Being invisible was so much more comfortable!

Even as a management trainer, I always made sure my audiences had handouts. Not only did these keep me on track with the ideas I wanted to share, but they also got folks to look down rather than at me.  I would actually become disconcerted when someone, who was probably more auditory than visual, kept staring at me. So, believe me, I know firsthand what this phobia is all about. I just substitute people for ducks.

Who knew a made-up word for a made-up phobia would lead to a real life truth? Inspiration did!