Robert Pinsky: 9/11



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Robert Pinsky (born October 20, 1940) is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Pinsky is the author of nineteen books, most of which are collections of his own poetry. His published work also includes critically acclaimed translations, including a collection of poems by Czesław Miłosz and Dante Alighieri. He teaches at Boston University and is the poetry editor at Slate.


9/11

We adore images, we like the spectacle
Of speed and size, the working of prodigious
Systems. So on television we watched

The terrible spectacle, repetitiously gazing
Until we were sick not only of the sight
Of our prodigious systems turned against us

But of the very systems of our watching.
The date became a word, an anniversary
That we inscribed with meanings--who keep
so few,

More likely to name an airport for an actor
Or athlete than "First of May" or "Fourth of
July."
In the movies we dream up, our captured
heroes

Tell the interrogator their commanding
officer's name
Is Colonel Donald Duck--he writes it down,
code
Of a lowbrow memory so assured it's nearly

Aristocratic. Some say the doomed
firefighters
Before they hurried into the doomed towers
wrote
Their Social Security numbers on their
forearms.

Easy to imagine them kidding about it a
little,
As if they were filling out some workday
form.
Will Rogers was a Cherokee, a survivor

Of expropriation. A roper, a card. For some,
A hero. He had turned sixteen the year
That Frederick Douglass died. Douglass was
twelve

When Emily Dickinson was born. Is even
Donald
Half-forgotten?--Who are the Americans,
not
A people by blood or religion? As it turned
out,

The donated blood not needed, except as
meaning.
And on the other side that morning the guy
Who shaved off all his body hair and
screamed

The name of God with his boxcutter in his
hand.
O Americans--as Marianne Moore would
say,
Whence is our courage? Is what holds us
together

A gluttonous dreamy thriving? Whence our
being?
In the dark roots of our music, impudent and
profound?--
Or in the Eighteenth Century clarities

And mystic Masonic totems of the
Founders:
The Eye of the Pyramid watching over us,
Hexagram of Stars protecting the Eagle's
head

From terror of pox, from plague and
radiation.
And if they blow up the Statue of Liberty--
Then the survivors might likely in grief,
terror

And excess build a dozen more, or produce
A catchy song about it, its meaning as
beyond
Meaning as those symbols, or Ray Charles
singing "America
The Beautiful." Alabaster cities, amber
waves,
Purple majesty. The back-up singers in
sequins
And high heels for a performance--or in the
studio

In sneakers and headphones, engineers at
soundboards,
Musicians, all concentrating, faces as grave
With purpose as the harbor Statue herself.