Friday, September 17, 2021

From Jenna Orkin

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

An earlier post of this poem has been inexplicably removed.

The Days Since
(October, 2001*)

*Written before the political battles and education which led to The Moron’s Guide to Global Collapse

In Union Square, a shrine appears 
and then another ‘til the place 
attracts reporters who report 
its volunteers’ hard work and grace. 
A fireman with a haunted look 
sits on the bench, his eyes rimmed red. 
A woman asks him, “Coffee?  Bagel?” 
Without a word, he shakes his head. 
Around, a wall of Wanted posters, 
“wanted” in that other sense: 
The Missing, all so very young. 
The pictures stay up on the fence 
for weeks, for who will tear them down? 
Who’d commit that sacrilege? 
And yet one night, somebody does 
when hope takes its last breath.  It was, 
in retrospect a far-fetched dream 
that anybody would be found 
and nursed to health when a million tons 
of stuff had crumbled to the ground. 

A fire truck, not red but beige 
with dust in which someone has written, 
“God bless the New York Fire Depart- 
ment.”  Someone else has drawn a heart. 
Across the street, the rectory, 
where Father Mychal combed his hair, 
they said at his memorial, 
and raced downtown to die in prayer. 

T-shirts needed!  Dogfood!  Boots! 
AOL provides a list, 
all obsolete; they’re overwhelmed 
downtown.  The chance is sorely missed 
by millions who want to help out 
and be part of this aweful thing. 
For nothing matters next to this. 
God bless America they sing 
at services all over town, 
at meetings of the PTA, 
at school, in concert on TV 
they sing from sea to shining sea. 

The weeks go on and still the fire burns. 
At Fulton Street the smell 
still greets whoever’s on the train 
and says, “Ascend and witness Hell.” 
Upstairs the crowd stands quietly 
and takes it in.  The tired cops 
sigh, “All right, move it; that’s enough,” 
to tourists snapping photo ops. 
For foreigners are less appalled, 
they, never having known it when. 
Its metal’s bent like willow branches. 
The church clock’s stopped at five to ten. 
W-T-C, those letters, 
now a code for grief and fear; 
when I was studying music they 
stood for the Well-Tempered Clavier. 
A few blocks down, at Trinity, 
the ancient graveyard’s buried, itself, 
in dust.  Another wrenching sign: 
Its clock is stopped at five to nine. 

Home is no relief, indeed 
it fuels the burning energy 
that drives us to consume more facts, 
here life is centered on TV. 
The people falling upside down, 
A man says he stayed in the room 
by clinging to the doorknob which 
saved him from the fierce vacuum. 
A man and woman holding hands 
fall - lovers?  Strangers?  Who cares, now? - 
willing, finally, to greet 
Death just to get out of the heat. 

The cast of characters comes on: 
Rumsfeld, grim, tightlipped, thank God, 
Powell and Fleischer jauntier 
as they joust with the press.  It’s odd 
how recent enemies are heroes, 
Giuliani, for example 
and former wits are reverent 
towards our formerly witless President. 
No one ridicules him now. 
Indeed, he’s less ridiculous. 
If he said, “Pakistanians” now, 
no one would make such a fuss. 
He gears us up for what’s in store 
This is a whole new kind of war. 
The women, Paula Zahn, Queen Noor 
at one A.M. her time, Amanpour 
reporting from Islamabad 
in khaki, like a Sabra, say. 
“She has a son, you know,” 
“She does?  But where is she from, anyway?” 
“Eat dinner out!  Go spend your money!” 
they tell us.  “See a play!  A game!” 
“Don’t let the bastards get you down!” 
(And don’t buy Middle Eastern honey.) 
“Be careful of suspicious mail! 
Don’t touch it, move it; leave the room! 
It could contain an anthrax powder!  
Call 911!”  You can’t assume 
the world’s a friendly place these days. 
Despite the work of CIA, 
the FBI’s half million tips, 
we’re speeding towards Apocalypse. 

New Yorkers soon are introduced 
to war and its accoutrements, 
gas masks, filters, body suits, 
an unaccustomed vigilance. 
We acquire expertise 
in germs and chemicals right quick: 
Sarin, hemorrhagic virus, 
meanwhile, a little Arabic. 
A money system based on trust 
that leaves no trace, the East’s hawala; 
schools that feed while they instill 
a willingness to die for Allah. 
We’re not so loved as we had thought 
The world prepares for years of war 
as oppressed people rise protesting, 
“We won’t take it anymore!” 
In China, the disaster footage 
is seen as just another thriller 
interspersed with scenes from films  
found on the shelf, next to Godzilla. 
In Pakistan the angry mob 
protests American arrogance. 
From Malaysia to Nigeria 
many think we’ve had our recompense 
especially the Taliban 
who escort foreign journalists 
to show them what the angry mob’ll 
avenge:  The mile miss outside Kabul. 

Monday morning:  To the doctor. 
After all, life must go on. 
“Oh by the way, could I have Cipro?” 
The doctor, adamantly con, 
however, thinks I am in error 
to give in to those guys whose aim 
is not just to destroy and kill 
but also to instill in us, terror. 

The city’s quieter, subdued. 
Where did everybody go? 
Will we be quarantined?  Cut off? 
Do they know something we don’t know? 
I walk down to the water’s edge. 
A child places a bouquet 
at a shrine outside the park 
where I used to bring my son to play. 
A picture rests against the fence 
to show the viewer where the World 
Trade Center stood before that day 
when we all lost our innocence. 

Jenna Orkin 

NYC Must Give Teachers With Medical And Religion Exemptions Non-Classroom Work, Arbitrator Finds