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Flying in America

We wait silently in snaking lines,
slouching towards security.
No companionable murmurs or impatient sighing,
just the repeating drone of low-paid workers searching for the next
“Bring out your laptops,” they chant.
We shuffle, juggle, obey.

The airport newsstands, united.
Front covers immortalizing new icons of death.
Passengers are but moments away from mentally reenacting the unimaginable.
Why buy images already boxcut into our souls?

We rewrite and rewrite cartoon scripts on takeoff.
She grabbed the pots of scalding coffee from the tiny galley and aimed real low.
The bad guy instantly felled by Starbucks!
The universe was saved!
and ... CUT!

In flight, I glance at the magazine my subconscious willed me to buy.
Ridiculously perfect papier-mâché pumpkins grace the cover.
Good god! Its Martha Stewart’s
The secret of forcing spring blooming daffodils to
flower indoors, in winter,
Is revealed.
Their names roll off my tongue.
Golden Harvest.
Bridal Crown.
Pink Angel.
Imagine all the daffodils living life in peace.

Flight attendants are sniffling into shredded tissue.
2,700 of their coworkers were laid off yesterday. Their
jobs may be
when we land.
The single cell of Martha Stewart in me would like
desperately to make it all
“You’re doing a good job,” I say.
“America’s gonna keep flying.”
But what I really want to do
is grab the microphone and shout,
“Attention ladies and gentlemen,
We are about to learn how to keep on LIVING.
And today we’re going to learn how to bloom
in the dead.
Of our winter.”

-- C. Richardson
Juneau, Alaska

Mother of Sorrows

Solace of shock, pray for us
Healer of grief, pray for us.
Absorber of tears, pray for us

Protector of children, pray for us
Calmer of fear, pray for us
Healer of hurt, pray for us
Inspirer of courage, pray for us

Strengthener of faith, pray for us
Peace of the terrified, pray for us
Home of the lost, pray for us
Song of the brave, pray for us

Rest for the tired, pray for us
Forgiver of our enemies, pray for us
Guardian of our enemies’ children, pray for us

Way to the future, pray for us
Queen of Peace, pray for us

-- M. Therese Casey
La Mirada, Calif.

A Sun Without Justice

In ancient Arabic texts, the wingless bird symbolizes man’s lower nature. The sun usually signifies justice. However, in hot countries, the midday sun is considered destructive, because it kills the vegetation that sustains life. It is a sun without justice. The Bible refers to it as the “demon of midday.” In folklore, sulphur’s red flames represent the underworld and the devil, who “always smells of sulphur.”
--Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy

Two wingless birds,
two demons turned before
the sun and slammed
into the heart of the world.
Their red sulphur flames
shot from two towers
where life once flowed.

Tell the sun to hide
from its dark mind;
leave no shadows
on the mourning hill
made of paper,
bone, and ash.

Have the trees chant
a plainsong,
while the cathedral
leans forward -- its windows
scraps of tattered lace
on the horizon.

The eagle flies
above the midday sun,
above the ruins
and the screeching
of the trapped firefighters’
body alarms.

Through the acrid incense,
from the corruptible earth,
it carries all souls to heaven:
reclaiming the void
where life once flowed
and will flow again.

-- Joan Rizzo
Medina, Ohio

not the dust

death isn’t hanging heavy in the air this morning,
at least not here.
the breeze from the harbor is welcome,
cooling my cappuccino.
* * *

the air is clear, only some dust
coming from construction across the street
but not the dust of cement crushed and felled
from two hundred stories in free fall
not the dust of cracked toilets, decimated terminals,
desk frames giving up loved ones to fire and fury
not the dust of vaporized bones and startled souls
crossing over, high above the harbor
not the dust of doors sealing office tombs
or windows slashing wrists, necks, arteries
in their accidental fall into grace
not the dust of dreams imploding across
the backdrop of the unimaginable
with a morning coffee
* * *

the city searches past the dust
ventilated, searched out the newest hope
the oldest routine
in the warm early summer day,
not the dust

-- Sr. Charleen M. [Pavlik]
Fayette City, Pa.

Hard Times

In hard times
you go to the center.
There’s a centripetal force towards home,
the softness stronger than stone.

In hard times,
as always,
become the marvel.

In hard times
you’re the pilgrim
for whom all are friends.
Nothing is left to sell or barter
but one’s life in service.

-- Sr. Carl Bialock, RSCJ

The Dogs

Disaster has brought them to this site
Of the blasted and collapsed extremities
Of what had been human buildings, to do
Dogs’ work of educated search and retrieve.
Patiently waiting handlers’ orders, they pass
Knowing eyes over the working area, already
Knowing by scent, here is work to be done.
None of them socializes: to one another
They are working partners, like the humans
Who died in the disaster, or the pairs
Of searches and carnage-carriers assigned
To the site. Unlike these, they do not
Drink coffee, make desperate jokes, scratch
Their heads with helmets off -- only focus
On dogs’ work, until dogs’ tired relief
From cadaver-fetch; they cannot show grief.

-- Nancy G. Westerfield
Kearney, Neb.

September 11, 2001

At the altar, it is easy
to accept the Body given up
for us, all linen and flowers,
the Host small and flat, bread
that dissolves simply in saliva.
But there in the rubble
bodies were given up
for each other, strong hands
hauling others through
the first debris,
not falling
until the towers fell
and bodies became ash and air,
the cream-colored dust still
drifting to windowsills,
filling our lungs
as we walk slowly past,
watching the rescuers
giving their bodies
to the smoldering heaps,
the long silent liturgy of hope
in the dark ruins.

Here Christ comes
to life among us
risen in these dead
and these living,
their bodies given
in labor and exhaustion.

Here the Spirit draws us
beyond this destruction
to love stripped to bone,
given over and over
to open this tomb
to learn the hard
giving and forgiving
that will become
our resurrection

-- Sr. Doretta Cornell, RDC
Bronx, N.Y.

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

Poems should be previously unpublished and limited to about 50 lines and preferably typed. Please send poems to NCR POETRY, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111-1203. Or via e-mail to poetry@natcath.org or fax (816) 968-2280. Please include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number. NCR offers a small payment for poems we publish, so please include your Social Security number.

National Catholic Reporter, October 19, 2001 [corrected 10/26/2001]