Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who Will Remember?

When the planes flew into buildings seven years ago, our focus--like the entire world's--was on Manhattan. But we were also particularly concerned about and focused on Washington, D.C. At the time, our daughter was a student at Georgetown, and from the house where she was living, she and her roommates could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon burning after the plane crashed into it.

While seven years is not a long time, it is enough time that some memory begins to fade. In class today, I departed from my usual approach, and just spent a bit of time asking the students how their lives have changed because of the events of September 11, 2001. The truth is--they are so young, most of them 18, that they do not recall a time when you didn't have to remove your shoes to fly on a plane. One student said--well, his life had changed because with the high price of gas, he had to drive the speed limit. (Humph, not a bad thing, maybe!)

But there are many, of course, whose lives changed forever. The people who died in the planes, in the World Trade Center, and in the Pentagon all had families. Those family members will always remember how their lives were changed that day.

However, time will pass--and some day, the observances will be historical, not personal. Fewer people will remember where they were when they heard the news. September 11, 2001 will become like November 22, 1963, or December 7, 1941.

I want to share with you a terrific poem by a Brooklyn born poet, Martín Espada . I first read this poem very soon after September 11, 2001, and thought the poem captured perfectly how to remember this event.
Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100
by Martín Espada

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.

Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the booming ice storm of glass from the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan to Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:

I will teach you. Music is all we have.
from Alabanza: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2002 (W.W. Norton, April 2003).


NCmountainwoman said...

Very moving tribute. Thanks for sharing this lovely poem.

Lynne said...

My heart aches with the memory.

Beverly said...

Oh thank you so much for sharing this. A young man who graduated from my kids' school a few years before them worked at Windows on the World restaurant. He had come home to be with his dad who was dying form cancer or he would have been there that day as well.

possumlady said...

Such a sad, frightening day. I worked six blocks from the White House and we could also see the huge plume of black smoke coming from the Pentagon. By 11:00 the streets were packed with people trying to get out of the city. Buses had their doors open with folks hanging on the poles standing on the steps. I had no idea if I would be able to get home.

Since that day I keep an old pair of sneakers at work. Although I'm in no shape to walk six miles, I'd do it if I had to if, God forbid, there is a next time. I also never let my gas tank go past half full.

Ruth said...

I like the personal feel of the poem. Those who experienced the events of 9/11 will always have a personal connection. It is just a story to anyone who was under 7 or 8 at the time. I was eight years old when President Kennedy was assassinated and the impact of that day will stay with me forever.

Anonymous said...

Try sharing it with a group of 4th graders. They were 2 when it happened. It's fascinating. I think I'll blog about it. :)

JeanMac said...

Today I tried to concentrate on the families still grieving their loved ones. Our local radio never mentions Dec. 7th and I think this year, I will call them and ask for at least a mention on their news -

Ginnie said...

The poem depicts everything that I think we have to remember when we vote this year for our next President and Vice President. We are a nation of all races, creeds and ethnic backgrounds...we need to meld as one unified body.
The McCain/Palin ticket terrifies me.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

A lovely poem. Thanks.

Few remember 9/11, 1973. The democratic government of Chile was overthrown. Allende shot himself rather than be captured. We now know the Nixon Administration and Henry Kissinger were behind this.