Kathryn Stripling Byer served as North Carolina’s first female poet laureate from 2005 until Cathy Smith Bowers’ appointment in 2010. The Cullowhee resident’s poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in publications ranging from The Atlantic to Appalachian Heritage. Her chapbook Southern Fictions was recently published by Jacar Press, and LSU Press will bring out her new collection titled Descent in the fall of 2012. Visit her blog, http://kathrynstriplingbyer.blogspot.com.
I knew no one who perished.
For that I am grateful.
My nephew had moved from the city a year ago.
My friends lived or worked blocks away from Ground Zero.
One watched from her office the small bodies leaping.
Another stepped onto the street as the second plane circled.
Out of the subway another climbed into a sky of glass falling.
The scrolls of their e-mails continued for days.
Again and again I try not to imagine myself onto either plane,
the continent stretching before me,
out there on the edge of it, sun just beginning to rise.
Seat belts off.
Scent of fresh coffee. The rattle of carts.
Here nothing flies into my windows but birds.
They have lain in my daughter’s palms,
pressed to her chest for the warmth of her beating heart,
until their broken-necked bodies grew cold,
and she looked up at me, as if asking, What now?
And I answered, Now go wash your hands.
for Susan Lefler
and the memory of Ruth and Juliana McCourt
Your image of angels attending the ruins
fails to move me.
I try to imagine their presence,
but over and over the plane burrows
into the tower of steel and glass,
bodies of flesh and blood,
the newsreel eternally rolling,
the morning indelibly sunny and crisp.
So much God talk these days
I am almost afraid to ask, Where
was He? Too busy pouring the wine
for a new round of martyrs? Inspecting the sheen
on his solid gold cobblestones? Meanwhile
the plane gleamed in His holy firmament,
held, like the sparrows of old, in the palm of His hand,
in its cockpit, the young men who prayed
to be gathered up into the silk tents of Paradise.
What more to say?
That tonight I am wary of angels
unfurling their wings like the flags I see brandished
from buildings and vehicles,
pasted like band-aids on freshly washed chrome.
That I ask of a poem only this:
Give me dust unto dust.
Let the pulse of it be nothing less than
their requiem, even as they enter into
the sky shining off those sheer towers.
in her mother’s arms,
she hears it,
she once slept beneath
her mother had
whispered her name.
of it still
on my tongue.