Sally Buckner edited two anthologies of North Carolina literature, including Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry. She has published poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent publication is Collateral Damage (Main St. Rag, 2008), poems about war and its far-reaching effects. She lives and writes in Cary.
“Writers’ group: my house tomorrow morning.”
—Message from Joy Acey, September 10, 2001
When the twin towers in Manhattan crumple,
we are at the house of Joy, five women
gathered this blue-sky morning to consider
the power of words. Wordless,
we watch, as what cannot happen
does: those massive definitions of the skyline
transform to cascades of roiling foam
like dingy showers of disconnected syllables,
a gibberish of steel, stone,
plastic, paper, glass,
flesh and bone.
Beyond the television screen, beyond
the windowed wall, two finches
placidly work the feeder,
their luminous gold multiplied
by a shaft of September sunlight.
In Manhattan, trucks, streets, air,
fleeing people, quivering ruins
coalesce: one shuddering moonscape
shrouded in ash,
one grim hue. Worn
by the severe preponderance of gray,
we lift eyes to exuberant greens
of Carolina forest, underscored
by the scarlet splash of cardinals,
the blurs of hummingbirds.
That night, in sleep, unbidden images
persist. The Pentagon’s perfectly angled structure
broken, blazing. A jumble of plane and persons
smashed into Pennsylvania woods.
Manhattan: from one pristine tower,
a sudden bloom flares orange-gold,
igniting in mid-flight hapless sparrows.
From clouded windows, workers, just arrived
to start their nine-to-five, are spurred
to final awful choices:
plunge scores of floors, embracing wind
and swift, final impact, alternative
to furious fire and unbreathable air.
A metal bird appears, then disappears
into the second tower—magic,
now you see it, now you don’t (how
did they do that? who? and why?)—
then flame erupts, another brilliant blossom,
sends smoke surging like prayers
to the helpless sky.
Images and words; words and images.
Compelled, we hear, view
words and images, images and words,
grope, hope to discover something
sufficiently firm to shift
our newly-tilted world
into familiar form, click fuzzy edges
into accustomed focus.
We fill chaotic hours
uncluttering desks and cabinets,
re-ordering closets, ruthlessly uprooting
the tangle of horsenettle and stiltgrass
that threatens the marigolds.
Scrubbing filth from the bird-bath, we pour
glistening water to the brim. We mow
our sick friend’s lawn, are grateful for
the mower’s happy clatter. We offer
money, messages, blood.