Ground Zero: Trying to Write About 9/11

September 11, 2010

In the wake of tragedy on September 11, 2001 — in the face of it, in some ways — there were reports of poems appearing all over New York. On lampposts, bus stops, phone booths, taped over advertisements; poems to lost loved ones, the missing, the dead, to the world.

Poetry seemed to be a healing force for some, a way of calling out in remembrance for others. Poems then started to appear in print, as poets from Deborah Garrison to Wisława Szymborska tried to come to grips with what had happened that day.

I tried to write a poem to express what I felt about that day. I wasn’t there, I was 100 miles away in Philadelphia, but some people I love were there and their lives were forever changed by the tragedy. All of us were.

I started writing the poem that November and worked on it for a while before giving up. It wasn’t easy to write about. I took it out again six years later and found it wanting. I was reminded of the poem today — nine years after the tragedy — and decided to share it here.

Here is my poem, “Ground Zero”:

Neighbors worked in these buildings;
buildings no longer there, no longer here.
Their emptiness fills the space once occupied.
How tall is emptiness?
How empty is remembrance?
Memory flares, burns out.

Neighbors are strangers become familiars,
and neighborhoods are the places we meet
the stranger’s glance, acknowledge or turn away.
Only now, who can turn away?
Who can pretend innocence?
Decoy repelling and attracting.

The boy in Belfast on his way to school
who runs past the empty spaces
between houses, fearing snipers;
the girl who fears an ill-timed car bomb;
the mother awaiting children from the playground;
the father fearing policeman protecting and serving.

Neighbors may be those we’d least like
to live with, but they make our community.
The empty space left by buildings gone.
Our hearts wanting for lack of something,
connection, community, solace–
Who can fill the space gone empty, gone?

(for Barbara Einzig & Chloe Indigo Hannah Guss)

–Scott Edward Anderson

3 Responses to “Ground Zero: Trying to Write About 9/11”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Shannon, ScottEdward Anderson. ScottEdward Anderson said: "Ground Zero: Trying to Write About 9/11" from my poetry blog: #poetry #911 […]

  2. Luis Lazaro Tijerina Says:


    Death is a memory in this mortal world.
    Life is a memory of the death of our city:
    Burning smoke floating through the air,
    Charred memories, charred flesh,
    The last phone call… not wanting to die,
    Asking to be remembered.

    Memories… upheld like a beacon in a great harbor.

    On this day, the pallid sky
    is spanned with haze of smoke and fire,
    Pools of blood carpet the deserted streets.
    Scorched cars are strewn like broken idols,
    The desolate night becomes quiet.

    Watches tick on the wrists of the dead,
    Twisted steel stands like twisted art,
    The mid-day sky is filled with colors of sunset,
    Creating a cruel harbinger of terror.

    In September come lights of amber on the trees.
    The singular note of a trumpet singing
    with the song of a human tragedy.
    There are no faces left on those who once lived,
    Only fingerprints burning
    into the leaden skies.

    On this of all days others came from far away
    and destroyed the myth of commerce,
    in a city that prided itself on tolerance, the mighty dollar,
    and liberty for those who could afford it…

    Wall Street…
    Fluttering receipts thrown in the air,
    fall to the floor like golden autumn leaves,
    History is a cruel teacher of over reaching…
    On this day, the stocks sold and lost.
    Stockbrokers trading in Hell,
    Bitterroot is the handmaiden of Imperialism

    tumbling down like burning leaves that twist in the wind,
    Some shore immortalized by starved whisperings
    of love and the disintegration of a human touch burning love into the blackened wind.

    Shadows of dying countrymen
    fall from skyscraper windows
    screaming into eternity,
    Their blood is a livid sea.

    Twin towers of endless greed,
    Are now mounds of debris.
    Sirens wail our grief,
    New Yorkers walk aimlessly
    about the soundless streets.

    This fire will burn forever.
    On this terrible day,
    Flags are draped over caskets,
    in Iraq and in Afghanistan,
    None counts the “enemy’s” dead.

    The wind that plays tonight plays with death,
    The dry heat shadows the mystery of life.

    Around the world they mourned the innocent dead
    in waves of searing sorrow.
    There is no relief for revenge,
    When one says in another country,
    “I had nothing to do with it.”

    Remember what is left to remember,
    Do not grieve for those who will perish soon,
    Instead grieve for your country,
    Do not remember the words of this poem,
    Remember instead the thousands, who died without a voice,

    Remember them.

    Luis Lázaro Tijerina
    Burlingotn, Vermont

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