9/11

by Fanny Howe



The first person is an existentialist

like trash in the groin of the sand dunes
like a brown cardboard home beside a dam

like seeing like things the same
between Death Valley and the desert of Paran

An earthquake a turret with arms and legs
The second person is the beloved

like winners taking the hit
like looking down on Utah as if

it was Saudi Arabia or Pakistan
like war-planes out of Miramar

like a split cult a jolt of coke New York
like Mexico in its deep beige couplets

like this, like that … like Call us all It
Thou It. “Sky to Spirit! Call us all It!”

The third person is a materialist.

Notes on the Poem

Is it virtually impossible to write about certain events that are too immense, too devastating, too charged on so many levels? To go into the specifics, one risks being maudlin, self-absorbed, short-sighted, too emotional. To try to broaden the discussion and perhaps recklessly try to scale something to the universal, one risks being too political, polarizing or simply missing the mark. Nowadays, is it also a fairly hopeless search to find an original angle, picture or perspective that hasn't already been captured, replicated, retweeted and interpreted to oblivion when a significant (or even a not-so-significant) happening goes viral? But if one feels compelled to comment, can a more oblique way of expressing it still bring something fresh, unique and resonant to the subject? Fanny Howe has done that in a poem that tackles the powerful and freighted subject of what happened on September 11, 2001. She uses as her title the abbreviation that is internationally and indelibly associated with the events of that day and all that followed, an abbreviation that has gathered its own connotations since that date. She moves right away from the familiarity of that abbreviation to images that seem to have no or tenuous association with the title - or do they? The images are strong but puzzling at first, second, even third glance. What compellingly seems to gather these images together, though, are three people. Their presence in the poem is both enigmatic but oddly comforting. The powerful event of the title and the disquietingly disjointed images and references throughout the poem are somehow softened by the presence of the people. The first and third persons frame the poem from one end of the philosophical spectrum to the other, suggesting that the range of interpretation of an event like 9/11 is that vast. But at the heart of the poem, suggesting the heart of the event's impact, is how it affects who and what we love.

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