Reflections on 9/11

Jeff Alworth

The Polish poet Wisława Szymborska has spent a lifetime meditating on conflict.  Her poetry is relevant and penetrating because it's not sentimental; where there is hope, she finds it in honest assessment.  "Reality demands we also state the following: life goes on."  Six years, several bombings, and two wars later, we must find hope in such modest words. Translation by Joanna Maria Trzeciak.

Reality Demands

Reality demands
we also state the following:
life goes on.
It does so near Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There is a gas station
in a small plaza in Jericho,
and freshly painted
benches near Bila Hora.
Letters travel
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a furniture truck passes
before the eyes of the lion of Cheronea,
and only an atmospheric front advances
towards the blossoming orchards near Verdun.

There is so much of Everything
that Nothing is quite well concealed.
Music flows
from yachts near Actium
and couples on board dance in the sunlight.

So much keeps happening,
that it must be happening everywhere.
Where stone is heaped on stone,
there is an ice cream truck
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been,
Hiroshima is again
manufacturing products
for everyday use.

Not without its charms is this terrible world,
not without its mornings
worth our waking.

In the fields of Maciejowice
the grass is green
and on the grass is -- you know how grass is --
transparent dew.

Maybe there are no fields other than battlefields,
those still remembered,
and those long forgotten,
birch woods and cedar woods,
snows and sands, iridescent swamps,
and ravines of dark defeat
where today, in sudden need,
you squat behind a bush.

What moral flows from this?  Maybe none.
But what really flows is quickly-drying blood,
and as always, some rivers and clouds.

On the tragic mountain passes
the wind blows hats off heads
and we cannot help--
but laugh.

  • Robert G. Gourley (unverified)

    9/11 Blogger

    There are those who question the official representation of "reality."

  • Stardust (unverified)

    It is a beautifully, sad poem, much like our country today.

    Thank you guys for not making 9/11 about Republicans vs Democrats.

    9/11 is much bigger than politics and BlueOregon has shown its class by recognizing that.

  • wheels (unverified)

    I actually think it's a beautiful, happy poem, in spite of our country today. And there are few better ways to think about it than what is contained therein. Soldiers can choose to stop fighting, workers can choose to stop working, and battlefields can be converted in to soccer fields.

    Thanks so much for your post.

  • Steve Buckstein (unverified)

    "I actually think it's a beautiful, happy poem..."


    It's nice to see a reflection on 9/11 that doesn't devolve into conspiracy theories and blame for anyone other than the perpetrators.

    This poem reminds us that, even after terrible tragedies, humans retain the capacity to laugh.

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    I'm in a hotel in Fort Erie, Onterio, Canada at the moment... in the middle of a 3-day business trip here. Nobody has even mentioned 9/11 up here. In fact it wasn't until I pulled out my cell phone to see what date to write on a work paper that I first realized what the date was. None of the other Americans here with me have mentioned it.

    We did get to ask some questions of our Canadian host during a break yesterday. But it had more to do with the fact that Fort Erie is at one end of a major international bridge which has been shut down for several days after 9/11 and huge numbers of semi-trucks had been temporarily parked in a huge vacant field across from the business facility we're here receiving our training at.

    It's very interesting to me to here Canadians here talk about 9/11 from their perspective. It's decidedly different from the American perspective that I'm used to. Not as a negative, though. It's more of an indifference of sorts... as if 9/11 were a purely American problem which has proven to be more of an inconvenience to them than anything else.

    BTW, from my perspective it has never been Democrats or progressives who have ever made 9/11 about Dems versus GOPers. The onus for that particular bastard lays with conservatives and nobody else, IMHO.

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    I'm pleased to see people responded to the poem much as I did.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    Thanks for the beautiful poem.

    I spent part of last summer in Dubrovnik, Croatia whose citizens starved while the Serbs gunned them down from the hills overlooking the city. In the 1990's.

    Today, the Croats, Muslims and Serbs all live and work together, after America fought the Bosnian War and won -- without losing a single American life.

    Wars can be fought and won... if the commanders understand war and the enemy.

    Unlike today's "cowardly crew".

  • Jamais Vu (unverified)

    Nice, low-key post, Jeff. Thanks.

    Considering the political reaction in our own country to this single episode of violence, I hope people demanding so much from our Iraqi friends bear in mind their country has suffered civilian deaths nearly equal to ours on 9/11 every month for the past couple years, despite their much lower population. We should remember that as we try to shift the blame onto them for the results of our behavior.

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    Reflections on a different 9/11 are here.

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)

    Nice poem.

    What a nice contrast to both parties trying to capitize on this unfortunate event for political purposes. Here is the latest

  • Miles (unverified)

    Thank you for sharing the poem, Jeff.

    For those of us who lost friends in the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary is still difficult. Today, while I knew it was 9/11, I went about my day without dwelling on it. But tonight I flipped by MSNBC to find they were replaying the coverage from that day, and I found my emotions were still pretty raw. I think that's the point of the poem, that life goes on, that we can still laugh without completely forgetting.

    The first few 9/11 anniversaries after I moved back to Oregon were tough, because few people here have a direct connection to the event. It is more academic, more distant. People look at you funny when you talk about honoring those who died -- as though you must be a closet conservative who supports the Bush Administration and the Iraq war. Probably my biggest frustration is the hijacking of 9/11 by those who want to conflate it with Iraq, so that Americans memorializing about 9/11 somehow need to add the caveat that no, remembering 9/11 does not mean we support the war. Even the anti-war movement has chosen 9/11 as a day of protest against the war, although there is of course almost no connection between the two.

    For me, 9/11 is a reminder that there are ruthless terrorists out there who are willing to murder innocent people, and we must do what is necessary to protect ourselves and lessen the hate. The time since 9/11 is a reminder that democracy is at its most vulnerable when we are afraid, and we must do what is necessary to protect our country from those who would exploit that fear.

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    Condolences on the loss of your friends. Where I worked at the time (OPB) my project had one New Yorker who was here temporarily, but NYC was where her heart and family & friends were, and our boss was an near in-law to someone who died on Flight 93 & was one of the cell-phone callers. That, and phone calls with friends whose kids in school had friends whose parents were killed, gave me enough sense of what I wasn't experiencing to confirm your perception from the other end.

    At the time I felt as if we in the west were experiencing a sort of emotional doppler effect -- that we were going through responses about two or three days after they developed closer to ground zero, with distortions similar to those one hears as a train whistle or siren comes closer and then moves away.

    I'm a little surprised to learn that people respond that way to the idea of honoring the dead -- not doubting it, but it's sad. Personally at the time I wished that we collectively could have found it in our hearts somehow to honor them with something constructive, like a massive commitment to AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa, or something else, but on that kind of scale -- a national living memorial that would embody the opposite values to the attacks. But there was too much anger. Probably even having the idea reflected the distance and abstraction mention.

    The choice to have anti-war protests today, on my understanding, arose when it appeared that Bush was going to have General Petraeus begin his congressional report on Iraq today -- in my view just the kind of exploitation you so rightly condemn in your last sentence. I don't believe they were planned because of a perceived link between the events.

    <h2>Unfortunately there are too many people in our government who don't get what you say about lessening the hate, and think things "necessary" that are not, and that increase the hate. Even more unfortunately, some of those unnecessary things also involve willingness to kill innocent people on a mass scale.</h2>

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