Stayed up very late last night watching episodes of the National Geographic documentary on 9/11. Gut-wrenching stories and images. Why would you watch that? someone asked. Because it happened. Because we swaddle ourselves against what happened. Not to forget, but to survive–or at least to maintain some forward momentum in our lives.
In the past twenty years I’ve written only two poems that address 9/11. Neither are published. One addresses the morning as I experienced it, wakening–being awakened–from a hazy dream/memory of watching a knot of tiny catfish at the edge of the pond where I lived in my teen years. Being pulled from the dream into a world utterly altered. The other poem attempts to directly interpret the event’s impact upon a friend whose brother phoned from New York after the towers fell. I don’t send that one out, not because I don’t think it’s a worthy poem, but because who needs another 9/11 poem from someone who wasn’t there?
And yet our individual experiences, however filtered by luck or time or distance, do matter. As I find myself resisting poems about the Covid pandemic–because there are so many bad ones–I remember how hungrily I searched for poems that chronicled others’ experiences of the AIDS crisis, even as I was urgently writing my own in the midst of all that overwhelming loss. I’m bothered by these opposite impulses, by the fact that they feel opposite. People are suffering. They are trying to write their way through that suffering. I’m not proud of the way I try to shield myself against the way we live now and the many parallels to that other pandemic. It’s so entangling, so full of unexpected trap doors into moments of fear and injury, grief and mourning, hope and despair. Who can live fully open to a whole life’s experiences? We close doors constantly to barricade ourselves, protect ourselves, in order to live.
Poems declined today by TriQuarterly. My first time sending work there.