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Focus 9/11: Poems Part III

guest edited by Rochelle Ratner

Click poets' names below to read their poems , or scroll down, please.

Ronald Wardell | Roger Mitchell | Barry Wallenstein | Michael_Heller | Kate Iscol| |Sharon Olinka | Corinne Robins|Clara Sala|

Return: Part I: Rochelle Ratner's Intro. to Focus 9/11: Click here.

Two Weeks Later by Ronald Wardell

The hobbled city is enough herself
to limp with grace. There were fallen stars
burning themselves out in fetal postitions.

I see innocence can't be forgiven.
The world is piled high with the unrecognizable,
even the ground dismembered.

Ahead of me in the supermarket express line,
a woman begins to sob. Three weeks ago I might
have looked at my watch.

Across the river from the city, I touch the arms
and shoulders of friends, and later
wait patiently for an old man to pee.

On the screen the men pass cut steel hand
to hand, and I'm ashamed of my bed.
Words shake, shudder, shift on their foundations.

Time curls around itself, wrapped tighter than

a firehose. Immunity is only for the dead
who stand around me tall as skyscrapers.

Ronald Wardall has been a farmer, desk clerk, carpenter, bridge builder, salesman, lighting technician, actor, agent for the Army Security Agency, travel agent, publicity agent, educator, fund raiser, administrator, union leader, lobbyist and editor. He has recently been the recipient of the Slipstream Prize, the Dana Prize and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship.

An Afternoon's Walk by Roger Mitchell

Up and down over the ledges on Pitchoff
yesterday, amazed at the views, burnish of the leaves
in early October, as the world gets ready again
for fall, the beginning of winter, end of another year.

It was only two days ago that my aunt died.
Ninety years old, and she just gave out.
Penny said she spent her last month or two sitting
in a chair with her eyes closed, saying nothing.

She had trouble recognizing people, sometimes
even Penny. She was tired. She just saw no way
forward, except into that other thing people,
in their oddity, their desperation, foolishness,

holiness, too, I suppose, willingly plunge themselves.
As those men did who flew planes into New York,
screaming the name of Allah, believing in death,
believing that death could be surmounted only

by death. I want to know what they were thinking.
But it seems as though we are not here to know
very much. They sit somewhere, or their ghosts do,
with their eyes closed forever, saying nothing.

If you must know something, says the tableau
of our days, you may have to make it up.
So, be careful. The earth is doing its thing again,
paying no attention to us. We wanted so much

to get down into that indifference, that quiet, wild
concentration, slow flame over the rocks,
and somewhere in the inner brain of each of us,
I think we did, chatting our way across

one exposed ledge to the next, happy to be
inventing a world so similar to the world itself
it became the world, before turning down
through steep gullies to the road below.

Roger Mitchell's latest book is Savage Baggage (The Figures, 2001). This past March he was poet-in-residence in the Everglades National Park.

Fear Poem #58 by Barry Wallenstein

At home and through the city
jaws are locked.

In such a gust
all foul matter is flung and on fire.

Those yet breathing know
a sigh's too slow and private,

too little a thing
to hang an end on.

Yet that sigh's been fished up
and sold to a long-winded barker

who promises to build it to a scream,

and from there,
who knows what may arrive.

Barry Wallenstein is the author of five collections of poetry, including Beast Is a Wolf With Brown Fire (BOA Editions, 1977), Love and Crush (Persea Books, 1991), and A Measure of Conduct (Ridgeway Press, 1999). A special interest is his involvement in the performance of jazz and poetry together. He has made four recordings of his poetry with jazz collaboration, the most recent being Tony's Blues, on Cadence Jazz Records [CJR 1124, 2001].

Anthrax In October by Michael Heller

Public air the enemy,

and the city,
a million hope-filled

each with at least
one face
masked in bubble plastic,

and with a grin
a silly grin at being alive.

When thought veers like a cab
going past an infected building,

say farewell to politics
and philosophy;

invite the new language,
hysterical with its dread.

All the psyche wants
is its yellow submarine

while bacilli calcify lungs,
the brave lose their meaning:

no use military deployments;
gone, the old reliable fire gods.

Nothing for an army to do
but retire generals to rest homes.

At the abandoned table,
the roach will crawl omnipotent

over funeral goods--
not a thing for epic or ode.

Who can remember emotion
recollected in tranquility,

elegy muffled in cloth

over mouth, word's breath

another carrier.

Michael Heller's most recent book, Living Root: A Memoir, was published by SUNY in 2000 and recently reissued in paperback. Exigent Futures: New And Selected Poems is forthcoming from Salt Publishers in 2003. His libretto for the opera Benjamin, based on the life of Walter Benjamin, has been set to music by the composer Ellen Fishman Johnson and performed at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.


Suicide Bomber by Kate Iscol

Little sister, I brought you kohl to frame your glistening eyes
But the sparkle was ignited by the ardor of determination

I brought you petals to inhale the scent of love
But you had been courted by the perfume of death

I brought you bangles for your wrists and to lighten your chores with melody
But your heart yearned for the sounds of wailing

I brought you a book because your mouth loved the taste of poetry
But the poem you craved had the flavor of blood

You, at 18, so gentle and innocent in your flowing skirts
Why did you pretend that no lover had enticed you,

Encircling your waist with explosives
And entering your body with the semen of martyrdom?

Kate Iscol is a teacher and an artist. As a lifelong reader, listener, and lover poetry, she is thrilled to have finally been bitten by the writing


The Progressives by Sharon Olinka
-- for Daniel Pearl

We believed love was the answer, strutted
down streets in robes of fluorescent color,
put flowers in the rifles of National Guardsmen.
Clanged bells, beat drums, wore beads.
Assured that seeds of change began with us. How could we
see the clouds that lay ahead,
crumbling towers, divisions set up
to thwart us? To cheat us
of all we ever dreamed? One day I would write
about injustice in America, Europe, Indonesia,
Australia, Turkey, and India. Change residences,
think the whole world
welcomed me. I believed
love was the answer. Foreign men
full of self-interest used me. I was
their diversion, and unwittingly I repeated
the mistakes of my ancestors,
those women in black babushkas
who jumped at a better education,
equality between the sexes,
higher pay, their right
to a self-determined life, unfettered,
or at least unfettered by Jewish fate.
I believed in love. Love, dignity,
and charity.

Sharon Olinka's poetry has recently appeared in Brooklyn Review, Poetry New York, and Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, a Spoken Word anthology from Random House. She has performed her work at Dixon Place and Beyond Baroque, among other venues. She is the author of one book of poems from West End Press, A Face Not My Own.


Lego Concentration Camp by Corinne Robins
-- Re: Mirroring Evil (Jewish Museum exhibition)

At the lego concentration camp,
are toys mirrors? Let the games begin.
See those men, Hollywood stars
in nazi uniforms. Who is imitating who
loving miniature models
whose moves move us like
the slashing of silver knives,
famous faces lining the walls
as a hollow throated grief follows
ignoring birds among the leaves,
those jokes the rain doesn't wash away.
Play. Play show and tell.
link the appalling and the appealing
reading the book,
reading the memory of their memories.
Play, play -- Lem Riefenstal's flags
fly above my head, above Hitler's dollies
hitting the hammer of my history.
Where are the boundaries when
you collect memories?
Some surrealist somewhere
claims Childhood is real life.
Can I understand you understand
my understanding of puppet's power,
pussy control, perfume like detonating rockets,
'my heart laid bare'
walking slowly through museums
to read every label
telling us, telling me
build, pledge and carry,
line up, line up,
selection is the only game.

Corinne Robins's most recent poetry collection is Marble Goddesses With Technicolor Skins from Segue Books. A poet and art critic, she is included in Best American Poems Of 2002 and is a contributing editor to American Book Review.


Ferry Ride Toward Manhattan by Clara Sala

the Statue of Liberty
slipping behind the boat
shields of light beam through clouds
Jersey oil rigs mechanical giraffes
distant American flag ripples gray nervous
ferry’s slowing wake
I slowly wake
bye bye baby
downtown Manhattan
is the flat postcard face of my lover
red lipstick gone her steel lips
her skyscraper hips
bye bye baby
the light behind
you holds what
you promised
more now
more than a dead green statue
uplift your arms
both of them

Clara Sala is a poet, spoken word performer and teacher. She has shared her work at colleges and venues across the US, and in England. She is working on her first book, Kneeling in Her Mouth.

"Firescape" Photo. Copyright (C) 2001 Rochelle Ratner.

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Clara Sala|
The End Focus 9/11: Poems
edited by Rochelle Ratner

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