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

Some folks will say W. S. Merwin is too old, too establishment, too difficult to be Poet Laureate. They’ll be wrong. Merwin is the right choice at this moment in time.

Not only has he revitalized his own writing at such a late stage — 82 years young — but he continues to inspire younger poets and readers of poetry around the world.

What’s more, in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Merwin brings his considerable appreciation and concern for the planet to the post.

I applaud the choice of W.S. Merwin as the 17th U.S. Poet Laureate.

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“Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn’t struggle?”

–Deborah Digges, “Broom”

I guess the light stopped holding her.  Deborah Digges died a week ago, an apparent suicide, having fallen from the top of McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

I’m saddened by the suicide of this remarkable poet.  And wondering why so many poets seem to burn so hot they flame out and can’t find their way out.

I was troubled by the suicide of biologist Nicholas Hughes, whose mother took her own life in a famous episode many years ago, earlier this month.  And I was troubled by the mass suicide of Indian farmers reported earlier this week.

Clearly Ms. Digges struggled.  Failed marriages.  The death of her last husband three years after marrying him. Rescuing her son from the brink.

Yet it doesn’t make it any easier, thinking of her standing at the top of that stadium in Amherst, contemplating or not. Did she hesitate, reconsider?

She was, as Tufts English Department Chairman Lee Edelman said, “a poet of breathtaking talent and astonishing verbal dexterity. Her poems join a keen and unsentimental intelligence with a passionate love for the particularities of things in their beauty, their transience, and their complexity.”

I remember when Ms. Digges’ first collection, Vesper Sparrows, came out; it was quite an achievement.   Poet Jorie Graham, whose work I greatly admired at the time (1986) wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Ms. Digges poems asked “of nature that it sing along and provide, at every turn, proof of our rightful place among things.”

She wrote from the intersection of humanity and nature, and often explored the interstices between the two.  She seemed filled with and fully committed to understanding our relationship with the natural world, but also our destructive tendencies.

Here is Deborah Digges’ poem “Trapeze,” in its entirety.  And a link to an audio file to hear her read it:

See how the first dark takes the city in its arms
and carries it into what yesterday we called the future.

O, the dying are such acrobats.
Here you must take a boat from one day to the next,

or clutch the girders of the bridge, hand over hand.
But they are sailing like a pendulum between eternity and evening,

diving, recovering, balancing the air.
Who can tell at this hour seabirds from starlings,

wind from revolving doors or currents off the river.
Some are as children on swings pumping higher and higher.

Don’t call them back, don’t call them in for supper.
See, they leave scuff marks like jet trails on the sky.

Trapeze by Deborah Digges

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