Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Later—Murfin Rants and Poetry

Through a series of nearly 3,000 paintings, Manju Shandler paid tribute to each of the victims in the 9/11 attacks as part of a special exhibition this month at New York City's 9/11 Museum featuring the responses of artists to the the attack and aftermath. 

There is no escaping it.  This year is one of those milestone anniversaries that make everyone sit up and take notice.  A scab is pulled off a barely healed wound.  Opportunists and con men scramble to once again jump to wrong conclusions, scapegoat straw men, and bend the occasion to serve their ambitions and blood lust
I dread it every year.  But it will not leave me or, I suspect, any of us alone.
But as horrible as those images etched indelibly in my mind are, is it wrong to say that I miss the days just after?  Remember?  For a little while Americans loved each other, found comfort in each other’s arms.  Divisions melted.  We were united by grief, and yes, even some righteous anger.  Even the world mourned for us.  Some of us even dared hope that the sense of oneness, community, and solidarity could change us.  Maybe even last.
Of course it didn’t.  Weeks went by and we went charging off in different directionsdrumming up wars on people who had nothing to do with the attack, cooking up wild conspiracy theories that confirmed our own personal demons and loathing’s, scapegoating the convenient and the weak, attacking the patriotism of anyone who did not wear a flag pin 24 hours a day.

Americans now hate each other. 
And now, multiple wars later, a Depression, the election of a Black President, the ascent of a kind of political madness, the rise of entitled oligarchy, and the goading of a narcissistic fascist  Americans hate each other.  Really hate.  Can’t stand to talk with each other, be in the same room, breath the same air.  Rage is the order of the day.  White men strut through malls and fast food emporiums with military style weapons slung over their shoulder daring anyone to look cross eyed at them and in their heart of hearts hoping that someone will challenge them.  Looking for any spark to set off a Civil War.
Black kids who look like they could be trouble are pumped full of holes with monotonous regularity.  Busses of half-starved immigrant children are besieged by snarling mobs.  In some churches, mosques, and temples hate thy neighbor is the daily message.  We are sliced and diced apart every which way—by race, language, religion, politics, age, gender, and who we choose to love.
The once revered first responder heroes of 9/11 have been transformed into greedy union thugs by politicians.  Police departments have been transformed from serve and protect into little armies to quash the slightest suggestion of unrest or dissent.
Women and their health have become more than ever political plaything, and the objects of Great Lie campaigns worthy of anything by Goebbels.   Transgender humans have become prey righteous hunters.
And guns still don’t kill people—the increasing mounds of bodies are felled by some kind of mysterious magic.
So much for my rant.
Looking back, I have grappled with 9/11 in my poetry more than any other subject.  And how that poetry evolved speaks to what has happened to us. 
The first one was written for a one year anniversary program and included in slightly different form in my collection We Build Temples in the Heart in 2004.

The dead of 9/11.

The Dead of 9/11 Leave a Message on George W’s Voice Mail

The Dead cry out—

It is not lonely here!
            They come by the scores
                        and by the thousands
                        every day,
                        as they have always come,
                        each arrival here
                        a wrenching loss below.
            They come as they have always come,
                        each death the completion of a journey,
                        the closing of a hoop of life.
            And we welcome each of them.

But we are not lonely here.
            We do not wander silent corridors
                        our footsteps echoing,
                        yearning for a voice.
            We are not lonely
                        for we are the Dead
                        and we are everywhere
                        united in that last breath
                        and in eternity.

But You—

You make haste to fill the unfillable,
            to send us more,
            many more,
            out of their own time
            as we were out of ours,
            yanked here in violence and hatred.

Let them be.
They will come in their own time.

We who know death
            do not cry out for revenge.

We are not lonely here.

Sharing the days.

In 2007 came one of those serendipitous coming together of calendar occasions

September 12, 2007
The Day After 9/11—Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah

Wheels turning within wheels—
     an astrolabe,
          Tycho’s observatory,
               gears in some fantastic machine,

Today, just today—
     Point A on Wheel X, spinning urgently,
     comes to kiss Point B on Wheel Y,
     rotating on its own good time,
     for just a nano-second
     having just brushed by
     Point C on cog Z.

These precise events will come again,
    I suppose—
     you do the math if you wish.

But if I wore stars on a pointed hat,
    I might conclude that there was something
    beyond mere physics at work here.

Call it an omen, if you wish,
     or the flat hand of something Greater
     slapping us up side our
     merely mortal heads
     and scolding us—
               “Spin as you will,
                you spin not alone.” 

The Cloud.

On the tenth anniversary I was moved by reading that the dust from the Twin Towers was still orbiting the stratosphere and slowly, year by year, falling to earth.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
September 9, 2011, Crystal Lake, Illinois

The ash and dust, they say,
rose as high as the skirts
of the ionosphere.
Prevailing winds pushed it
            across oceans and around the world.

Most has sifted by now to the earth.
Some orbits still,
motes descending
            now and again.

My study is a cluttered mess.
Dust lays on any unattended
horizontal surface,
makes webs in corners,
balls in computer wire rats nests,
devils under bookshelves.

That speck, that one there,
            the one by the stapler,
            just might be what’s left
            of the Dominican cleaner
            who left her children
            with their Abuela
            and went to work
            in the sky
            only to be vaporized.

Hola, señora.
It is an honor to meet you.

La Moneda, the Presidential Palace in Santiago under attack during the U.S. sponsored Chilean coup on 9/11 1973.

Three years ago I recalled that 9/11 was etched in the memories of Chileans as the date of their own national catastrophe—the 1973 coup d’état that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and ushered in a brutal dictatorship.  The United States government was more than just complicit in that.

Two Anniversaries
September 11, 2013

I’ll ante my 3,000 vaporized on a crystal morning.
You’ll see me your 3,000 homeless ghosts.
I’ll give you my crumbling Towers and billowing ash.
You will call with the bombed rubble of La Moneda .

I’ll throw in a stack of terrorists with beards and turbans.
You’ll count out freckled faces, crew cuts, and black fedoras.

Let’s show our cards and see who loses.


  1. A friend posted this about Chile

  2. Good stuff, Patrick. I especially appreciate the poem acknowledging that Sept. 11 is the anniversary date of distinctly different events in Chile and the United States.