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