9-11 Poems at Five

by Robert Bové (Sept. 2006)


(Note:  I composed this poem cycle in early Fall 2001.  Poems here were soon published at National Review Online, Opinion Journal, Chiff and Piffle, A Small Victory, The Texas Mercury, and Poets for the War.  The entire cycle was published at Enter Stage Right, and linked at Little Green Footballs and Ed Driscoll among other sites, and is available at George Mason University’s 9/11 Digital Archives, soon to be housed at the Library of Congress.  I am at work on a related cycle, Deep in the Hard Part, which can be found at New English Review, in order, here, here and here.—RB)






We marked four winds by an acrid smoke,

Smoke first black, then white,

Driven across East River and New York Harbor,

Carried east across Brooklyn Heights, then south over Staten Island,

Out over the Narrows, down Jersey Shore, then up Long Island and out to sea,

Carried north over Central Park, over Harlem, Washington Heights,

Over and into the Bronx, over and into Connecticut beyond,

Carried west over Hudson, raking up and down Jersey Palisades,

Fort Lee to Bayonne.


Over all was blown this marvel, a dark compass in the sky.

We saw it from a hill in Green-Wood, by Tiffany’s tomb,

Acorns, catkins, catalpa fruit littering the manicured grass,

Along with charred memos, letters, and newsprint

All covered, all covered with thankless ash—


In this ash, ashes, the ordinary become SOS, the truth of what was

And what is.


Upon the ashes of that work

Is our work—

Begun when theirs ended—

In smoke and ash,


Twisted steel, exploded glass,

When our towers, one after the other,

Shuddered and collapsed,





Engine 205



Those who know that work is love

Know that this work is great love,

Work done in the face of death

In defiance, in respect,

True work, true love, sacrifice—

Lives for love, living for love.




Ladder 118



How will DNA tell us


Whose hand grasped

Axe to free trapped


Clerks in elevator



Or which hand

Steered fatal jet—


Or whose feet bore

The weight of


Boots, belt, air tank

And helmet


Up and down flights of

Stairs and


Into the lighted



Will the DNA tell us


Who loved to dance,

Though he danced


Badly—or which

Plotted to


Undo dancer in mid-



Or who, could he

Speak once more,


Would surely ask,

May I have

The next dance?




Restless and Unsleeping



I thought it raged somewhere else—

Twister hop scotching Kansas,

Flood drowning Minnesota


Always, always somewhere else.


But it was racing across

Cloudless skies, down calm East Coast,

As arsonist, as human


Bomb, as some demented god.


And from a cell phone inside

We got our answer to Where

When he said, The fire is here.




The Blind Man’s Guide



There is no path; there is no road,

That we have made, that leads away

From doors in flame, from glass-shard floors

Guide dog no use but to stay close.


But to presume a path will appear,

First to blind feet, then to scorched hands,

Each step borne by that presumption—


That foot will find fall after fall,

Descending an obscure staircase

Long minute after long minute

Until a familiar embrace,

Merely imagined up to now,

Saying you are home—


Brings you home.







Out the office, hale and clean pressed

Or broken limbed, ash covered

Into waiting boat, one of hundreds

Tugs, tankers, water taxies, ferries

Evacuating under smoke,

Going in by radar

At high speed, Staten Island Ferry up to 800 rpm,

6,000 passengers one way—out—

Urgent, determined, clear

That nobody should be sitting down

That we couldn’t think of any place else

We’d rather be.


F-16’s knife through breaks in black billowing

Close down over harbor—Didn’t know

Whose they were—and on the Hudson, damn

If it wasn’t Half Moon Just sitting there in the haze—

Almost 400 years to the day

Hudson first penetrated New York Harbor

A replica with nothing to do

On busiest day in harbor since Melville.







Her daydream:


Two rows of barges, each longer than a stadium,

Slowly moving from Manhattan,

Leaving a lane between for her ferry,

Heading in the opposite direction to terminal,

Each barge pushed by a tug,

Each tug with a wheelhouse,

In each wheelhouse the same silent skipper chomping

On cigar, eyes focused straight ahead, beyond

The wreckage—


A memory of something

She’d seen in the papers.







One told a magazine writer,

At first, the barges were filled with rebar,

Which always had some cement attached.

There were crows and seagulls everywhere.

I didn’t know crows ate cement.







He thought of going over to see how they were doing,

The workers he’d ferried in from Jersey

Ants on a hill, digging digging digging.


Was ebb tide, all that smoke

Sucked out to sea.







Steamfitter says he used to line up piling he was driving

With the Twin Towers.

Harder now, that hard job,



But doable.







To suffer loss is not to be

At a loss.  It is to be

In loss.  In it, there is no

Distance any longer

Between quick kiss

And long goodbye.


Such a lie, such a lie

To deny this anguish,

Prescribing more distance,

Even deeper detachment

To those severed


From such men

As we saw that day,

In fear, in faith,

Inch by inch

Yanking one door closed

Pushing another open

With their bodies.


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