Cathy Smith Bowers currently serves as North Carolina’s poet laureate. A resident of Tryon, she teaches in UNC Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program and in the M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte where she received the 2002 J.B. Fuqua Distinguished Educator Award. She also received the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Award given by the N.C. Poetry Society in 2006 and 2007. Smith Bowers received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. Her poetry collections include The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas (Texas Tech University Press, 1992); Traveling in Time of Danger (Iris Press, 1999); A Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004); The Candle I Hold Up To See You (Iris Press, 2009); and Like Shining From Shook Foil (Press 53).
I was one of the lucky ones. I spent the morning of September 11th not only watching in horror as plane number two crashed into the second tower on the screen in front of my eyes, but also fearing that my oldest sister Tricia and her husband might have been on one of those two planes. I knew they were scheduled to fly out that morning to go to Germany, but I didn’t know what flights they were taking or the route of their trip. I couldn’t get a call through to South Carolina to ask other family members what they knew about my beloved sister’s flight itinerary. This was the sister who had been my guiding light since the day I was born. She had given me what my parents were not able to give — courage, drive, optimism, desire and hope for a better life. I had never even imagined life without her and for two terrifying hours I knew that life without her was now a possibility. After two hours of calling and calling and calling everyone I knew, I finally dialed her number. She answered. She was alive and back home in Fort Mill, S.C.
Her bags had been checked already and she and my brother-in-law were waiting for their flight to arrive when airport officials closed the Charlotte airport down. As my little poem suggests, my joy was bittersweet, knowing that I, indeed, was one of the lucky ones. It was my near loss that makes my compassion for those who were not so lucky even more deeply visceral and relentless. —Cathy Smith Bowers
I’d never seen so green a green
before, so lean
those tender pods
I stopped and bought
when I knew for certain you were
not on that plane.
Trish, what would my
selfish life have
been? But no–come get some okra
now. I’ve dredged and
fried it. Just the
way you like it.