Thursday, August 29, 2002

110 Stories, by John M. Ford

This is not real. We've seen it all before.
Slow down, you're screaming. What exploded? When?
I guess this means we've got ourselves a war.
And look at -- Lord have mercy, not again.
I heard that they went after Air Force One.
Call FAA at once if you can't land.
They say the bastards got the Pentagon.
The Capitol. The White House. Disneyland.
I was across the river, saw it all.
Down Fifth, the buildings put it in a frame.
Aboard the ferry -- we felt awful small.
I didn't look until I felt the flame.
The steel turns red, the framework starts to go.
Jacks clasp Jills' hands and step onto the sky.
The noise was not like anything you know.
Stand still, he said, and watch a building die.
There's no one you can help above this floor.
We've got to hold our breath. We've got to climb.
Don't give me that; I did this once before.
The firemen look up, and know the time.
These labored, took their wages, and are dead.
The cracker-crumbs of fascia sieve the light.
The air's deciduous of letterhead.
How dark, how brilliant, things will be tonight.
Once more, we'll all remember where we were.
Forget it, friend. You didn't have a choice.
That's got to be a rumor, but who's sure?
The Internet is stammering with noise.
You turn and turn but just can't turn away.
My child can't understand. I can't explain.
The towers drain out from Boston to LA.
The cellphone is our ganglion of pain.
What was I thinking of? What did I say?
You're safe? The TV's off. What do you mean?
I'm going now, but not going away.
I couldn't touch the answering machine.
I nearly was, but caught a later bus.
I would have been, but had this awful cold.
I spoke with her, she's headed home, don't fuss.
Pick up those tools. The subway job's on hold.
Somebody's got to pay, no matter what.
I love you. Just I love you. Just I love --
The cloud rolls on; I think of Eliot.
Not silence, but an emptiness above.
There's dust, and metal. Nothing else at all.
it's airless and it's absolutely black.
I found a wallet. I'm afraid to call.
I'll stay until my little girl comes back.
You hold your breath whenever something shakes.
St. Vincent's takes one massive trauma case.
The voice, so placid, till the circuit breaks.
Ten minutes just to grab stuff from my place.
I only want to hear them say goodbye.
They could be down there, buried, couldn't they?

My friends all made it, and that's why I cry.
He stayed with me, and he died anyway.
We almost tipped the island toward uptown.
Next minute, I'm in Macy's. Who knows how.
I really need to get this bagel down.
He'd haul ass, that's what Jesus would do now.
A fighter plane? Dear God, let it be ours.
We're scared of bombs and so we're loading guns.
Who didn't have a rude word for the towers?
The world's hip-deep in junk that mattered once.
Hands rise to heaven as asbestos falls.
The air is yellow, hideously thick.
A photo, private once, on fifty walls.
A candle in a teacup on a brick.
They found -- can you believe -- a pair of hands.
Oh, that don't hurt. Well, maybe just a bit.
The Winter Garden's shattered but it stands.
A howl is Mene Tekeled in the grit.
Some made it in a basement, so there's hope.
The following are definitely known . . .
You live, is how you learn that you can cope.
Yes, I sincerely want to be alone.
Don't even ask. That's what your tears are for.
The cats are in a shelter; we are not.
Pedestrians rule the Roeblings' bridge once more.
A memory of home is what we've got.
Tribeca with no people, that's plain wrong.
It's just a shopping bag, but who can tell?
Okay, okay, I'm moving right along.
The postcards hit two dollars, and they sell.
Be honest, now. You're proud of living here.
If this is Armageddon, make it quick.
Today, for you, the rose is free, my dear.
We're shooting down our neighbors. Now I'm sick.
I can't do that for fifty times the fare.
A coronary. Other things went on.
It goes, like, something mighty, and despair.
All those not now accounted for are gone.
Here is the man whose god blinked in the flash,
Whose god says sinful people should be hurt,
The man whose god is kneeling in the ash,
The man whose god is dancing on the dirt.
Okay, I ate at Windows now and then.
This fortune-teller went to Notre Dame?
They knocked 'em down. We'll stack 'em up again.
Oh, I'd say one or two things stayed the same.
Some nights I still can see them, like a ghost.
King Kong was right about the Empire State.
I'd rather not hear what you'll miss the most.
A taller building? Maybe. I can wait.
I hugged the stranger sitting next to me.
So this is what you call a second chance.
One turn aside, into eternity.
This is New York. We'll find a place to dance.

With resolution wanting, reason runs
To characters and symbols, noughts and ones.

[speceng at]

[Permission hereby granted by John M. Ford to make one or two copies for personal use, but please do not reprint except by permission of the author. Thank you.]

Thursday, August 22, 2002

The Missing, by Gerard Van der Leun

Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know
Within the smoke their ash revolves as snow,
To settle on our skin as fading stars
Dissolve into pure dust at break of day.

At dawn a distant shudder in the earth
Disclosed the fold of fire into steel,
These rumbles not from subways underground,
But screams from out of towers sheathed in flame.

We stood upon the heights like men of straw
Transfixed by flames that started in the sky,
And watched them plunging down in death¹s ballet
To land among those dying deep below.

We breathed the smoke that bent and crept and crawled.
We learned to hate the smoke that lingered so.
We knew that blood could only answer blood,
And so we yearned to go and not to go.

By evening all their ash had settled so
That on the leaves outside my window glowed
Their souls in small bright stars until the rain
Cleaned us of what could not be clean again.

That last, lost summer faded into ash.
Their faces faded as the autumn flowed
Through chill and heat into the Persian sea,
Where angered warships prowled in search of stones.

Within their city, shrines were our resolve.
We placed them where they stood or where they lay.
And now upon our stones their faces loom
And gaze at us from times beyond repeal.

Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know.

          [boswell at]

Monday, August 19, 2002

WE'D LIKE TO BEGIN THIS PROJECT by quoting our inspiration -- a shard from the shattering of an earlier world, W.H. Auden's September 1, 1939. The poem was often noted after the September 11 attacks, and has become nearly a cliche, but things often become cliche precisely because they are so apt. So:
September 1, 1939, by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: Please send submissions to volokh at . A few tips:
  1. Poetry is a tremendously subjective field; the material here is chosen solely based on our subjective and often erroneous judgment.

  2. Because of our quirky tastes, please submit only formal verse, which generally means at least metered, and preferably both metered and rhymed. Free verse can be wonderful -- but it's just not our cup of tea.

  3. We prefer poems that are 20 lines or shorter. We may make exceptions, but shorter is better (even in the under-20-line zone).

  4. We generally like poems that are subtle but not opaque, that are neither over-the-top nor passionless, and that use language that is elegant but simple. How's that for precise guidelines?

  5. By submitting the poem, you are agreeing to let us distribute it indefinitely on this Web site, and also on the Volokh Conspiracy site. You are also agreeing to let us include your name and e-mail address, unless you expressly tell us otherwise.

  6. We are happy to republish work you've already published elsewhere. Please do not, however, send us work that you love but that was written by others; please ask them, if you know them, to submit it themselves.

  7. We will try to respond within one week of your submission, and we will usually succeed.

  8. If we find that we lack the taste or the heart to uncover enough gems in what we're sent -- or, for that matter, if we're not sent anything at all -- we reserve the right to quit having published nothing.
Finally, something that is surely not news to most writers and readers: A poem is not (or at least not necessarily) a political slogan. It need not be a forthright declarative or imperative sentence. Its meaning ought not be cloaked in too much indirection, but neither does it require the straightforwardness of reportage or instruction. A phrase may reflect ambivalence as well as certainty. The narrator is not always to be trusted. Words of triumph can cloak despair, and vice versa.