Here's a poem about 9/11 that I love because it takes me right into the heart of the story--the beating hearts of real people. Bill Holm, one of my former colleagues at Southwest Minnesota State University who wrote this poem, passed on February 25, 2009. His spirit lives on in all the words and books he left behind. I encourage you to get your hands on some of his books of poetry and prose listed below. If you want to get a better sense of our corner of fly-over country here in Southwest Minnesota, Bill's books are a good place to start.
An Early Morning Cafe
One hundred and seven stories into the air
the Windows on the World Cafe
served pate and poached salmon
to diners staring over Manhattan,
but early this September morning,
the sommelier and maitre d’
were still asleep in their faraway flats,
only the sous-chef and banquet staff
had arrived to peel the shrimp,
trim the artichokes and wash
the leaves of the escarole.
Simple work with your mates
in a quiet early morning cafe
is a pleasure: jokes, mild complaining,
a hummed tune or two,
when suddenly a berserk machine
decides to murder a building with fire.
Like a badly shot elephant,
the hundred-and-six stories holding up
your peeling knife and lettuce drier
wobbled and shook a little while,
but when flames melted the bones
it all tumbled down on top of itself
in a gray heap, shrimp,
artichokes, escarole, fifty thousand
bottles of elegant wine,
and you yourself, unless you leapt
out one of the windows of the world
to finish with imaginary wings
the flight to the city of angels.
Humans so riddled with hate they turned
from men to bombs smashed the girders
under your cafe, though they’d never met you,
to murder you for the glory of God
with your apron still smeared with shrimp guts.
It was always thus. Try to kill an abstraction
by murdering a building from the air,
but all you kill is Bob and Edna
and Sollie and Rodrigo and Mei-Mei.
A building is only a set of artificial legs
to hold up human beings in the air,
and an airplane only a sheet of folded paper.
But fifty thousand bottles of good wine
and a hundred pounds of fresh Gulf shrimp,
and Bob and Edna and all the rest–
that is something real!
If you think you’ve bagged the one truth
and that truth wants final sacrifice,
then you’ve stepped outside the human race,
and your plane will not land in heaven
wherever you think it might be.
Heaven is an early morning cafe
wherever you are.
(Copyright © 2004 by Bill Holm. From Playing the Black Piano published by Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, Minnesota. All rights reserved. www.milkweed.org)
Though born in the middle of the North American continent, Bill Holm was a devotee of islands as well as an essayist, musician, and poet. His books include Windows of Brimnes, Eccentric Islands, Coming Home Crazy, Playing the Black Piano, The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth, The Dead Get By With Everything, The Music of Failure, Faces of Christmas Past, Chocolate Chips for Your Enemies and Box-Elder Bug Variations.