Poetry about 9/11 that reverberates today

Longtime Tribeca resident Cheryl J. Fish, a professor of writing and literature at BMCC, has released a book of poetry about September 11th with many poems that reflect the neighborhood at the time. And while her book launch events are postponed, Cheryl notes that the issues of shared trauma are as timely as ever.

“Since the Covid-19 crisis, 9/11 has been referred to a lot in comparison. The way we responded to the terrorist attack, our trauma, our hindsight and reflection seem very relevant now.” Cheryl is also an environmental justice scholar and fiction writer, has been Fulbright professor in Finland and writer-in-residence at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. She will host a Zoom reading this Thursday, May 21, at 7p. Email Cheryl to participate.

The poem below was written after she and her son visited the 9/11 Museum with their neighbors in 2017 — six years after it opened. “It took me all of those years to go — I couldn’t go in there and see the trauma and what it was going to invoke.”

Over the past two decades, she has also developed scholarship in environmental humanities and a new field called ecomedia, including a subcategory of work on art, movies, social media and photography made in response to mining and extraction, especially in indigenous communities. She has used that to better inform the environmental effects of 9/11 as well. “I feel like comparative work is really important to see how indigenous and non-indigenous communities are coming together.”

The poetry has come to her easier now, in the COVID era. “It’s more in the moment and easier to concentrate on — it’s briefer and I find it’s hard to concentrate on longer things. Plus it was my first home as a writer.”

The book is available direct from Duck Lake Books or on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Here’s a sample:

Grapple | For Mark and Jackie Margolis

Piece of steel from the South Tower
floors 30-33
folded over unto itself.

Like a bendy branch
a kneeling knee
three or four welds split open.

My son walks ahead of me
as we the elders survey these artifacts
we don’t want to remember that day
he’s anxious to review the main events.

He was only two back then.
Fifteen years after the attack
I cannot enter the recap room.
My lungs contain tiny particles.

He explores
photos of carnage and smoke
parts of firetrucks and teddy bear mountains
posters of missing souls and recordings about heroes.

He lives without questioning behemoths
built after terror trembles. Inside the museum the
dead and alive
form
a column of
voices.

We all grapple with
distance and proximity.

Reprise:

Drum
Drum
Drum

the island
the river
the sky
always with us

after

all

other

signs.

 

2 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading the sample of Cheryl J. Fish’s poetry from her book, Crater&Tower appearing in TriBeCa Citizen. I’ve purchased the book and look forward to her other poems about this tragic but historic event and it’s aftermath.

  2. I was in lower Manhattan with a two year old that day as well. This poem captures the feelings of fear and helplessness so well. May we never live to see a day like this again

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