Janet Bowdan

Working Note: When writing this poem, I was feeling the distance from being in New York or DC, compounded by the way I first heard about the September 11 disasters. I only heard about it on the radio (my TV doesn’t work) so I had no visual images, only descriptions.


The aftermath is ongoing

It’s___________sunny and pleasant this afternoon
(mostly, strangely)

________________we are calling our friends
(safe at home, on the planes, on the 84th floor)
saying are you safe? I’m safe. Are you safe?

Do you know whether_________is safe?
(Name who is supposed to be there, name who
might be there who usually sleeps late, name
who shouldn’t be there, name remembered later)

This morning is sunny and pleasant
The afternoon continues sunny and pleasant
That weather should be pleasant
(now, at that time, in this aftermath) is

it is not just one thing, it’s another

(bizarre, ironic, the way the world is)

we are recovering______________
(undeniable loss, remnants of the recognizable
world, attentiveness)

The aftermath is ongoing

We are calling our friends, out of the arc
of loss
(safe at home we, on the planes we, at our desk
in a high tower we)

We see things fall, we are inside things that
fall, we fall

She is outside arguing with him,
“don’t go to work,”

he wants to go to work because it is a work day
if he can go to work everything is still there

he will even walk to work to get there and maybe
walking there will make it be there

while it is happening

cellphones telling us

“don’t go to work,” and they see
and they turn, they go inside to where
the television is
to put it there instead of in the world

We thought we were
and have been saying this repeatedly
(safe, too powerful, too nice, too hard-working,
and variations of the above

we were out of the arc of loss

Are we saying “war” to avoid saying “emergency”? or
“shock”? to give it form?

We are doing laundry

rescue personnel are coated with ash and debris, everything
is covered with dust so we are doing laundry (we are
miles away, we are hundreds of miles away, we are right there)

While it is afterwards we are learning
what had been happening

cellphones telling us
details brought up topside from below or,
having fallen, into light

we are recovering
loss (undeniable) attentiveness

We direct your attention to these landmarks
there is more to see, not less
all we have looked away from in our lives
and—here we are—how can we look away now?

Bio: Janet Bowdan teaches at Western New England College. This poem is part of a recent manuscript collection entitled “Siren.” She also has poems forthcoming in Tooth and in Smartish Pace.

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