week one: september 2001

My city buried in dust:
fine cement powder
coats my teeth,
burns my eyes,
stops my tongue.
All week long,
endless smoke billows over Wall Street,
filling the canyon end of Fifth Avenue,
wafting through my head
like the smell of fire in the walls.

I’ve seen everything sooted,
altered by ashes without atonement:
the bankers’ suits,
the firemen’s boots,
the city walls scattered with missing faces,
fences splattered with yellow ribbons,
broken train routes, empty stores,
blithe billboards with skyline backgrounds
still intact.

And every conversation muffled under the weight,
her brother,
his wife,
an artist friend of mine
–what was he doing there?
Names spoken in whispers,
heads bowed like battered supplicants
lighting candles from beneath despair.

Late last night the W train took me up over the Manhattan Bridge.
Shoulder-high to the guards of Chinatown, my view was less encumbered.
Where, just last week, two sentinels stood massive, proud,
now only a low, smoldering gasp of ash,
glowing like a pyre in Stonehenge,
ringed by the silhouettes of dark, silent buildings
–injured sisters cloaked in funereal black,
they wait around the crumbled bed,
watching for recovery.

James J. Kempster, 2001

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