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[poems by Jaki Shelton Green, Joseph Bathanti, Shelby Stephenson]

Perhaps you saw the photograph in last week’s news: Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee at Kabul Airport cradling an infant evacuee in her arms. A few days after the shot was taken, Sgt. Gee was killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber while she worked at the airport gates. Twelve other American soldiers were killed; one hundred fifty Afghan civilians were killed. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with vengeance and punishment.

One the last day of her life, Sgt. Gee continued her mission to give Afghan women and children hope. She saved their lives. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with love.

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You are part of the human heart. With her beautiful voice and beautiful heart Chanda Branch opened the book launch for Crossing the Rift last Sunday (September 12) in Winston-Salem. Editors Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti shared the vision that led them to create this anthology of North Carolina poets writing on 9/11 and its aftermath. About a hundred of us gathered in the breezeway at Bookmarks on 4th St. to listen, to remember, to witness, to continue to heal.

Among the poems we heard that afternoon are these three by current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and former Laureates Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson. Twenty years: it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long; it’s hard to believe that it has been only twenty. The world changed on 9/11/2001. It’s hard, but if we seek them hard and also work hard to create them we may find some signs of change for the better. What is the answer for hate? Where will we be at the thirtieth anniversary?

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lifting veils

++++ 11 september 2001

++++ ++++ I

it is a bloodstained horizon
whispering laa illaha il-allah
prelude to a balmy evening
that envelops our embrace
we stand reaching across
sands, waters, airs full of blood
in the flash of a distant storm
i see you standing on another shore
torn hijab
billowing towards an unnamed wind
we both wear veils
blood stained
tear stained
enshrouding separate truths

++++ ++++ II

misty morning
teardrops of dust
choke and stain lips
that do not move
will not utter
it is a morning of shores
sea shadows that caress memory
of another time
another veil
another woman needing
reaching
lifting

++++ ++++ III

into your eyes i swam
searching for veils
to lift
to wrap
to pierce
dance with
veils that elude such mornings
veils that stain such lips
veils tearing like music

++++ ++++ IV
it is the covering of spirit
not the body
my hijab your hijab
connecting interweaving crawling snaking binding
into a sky that will not bend

Jaki Shelton Green (ninth and current NC Poet Laureate, since 2018)

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Katy

After the first plane,
Katy phoned her brother.
She was safe, in another building.

They were evacuating. DJ thought
she had said the other building—
the South Tower—crashed into

by United Flight 175 at 9:03,
moments after the line went dead.
That’s all Katy’s mother, my sister,

Marie, could tell me when I called.
All we had to cling to:
a single syllable, separating another

from other, negligible, mere nuance;
but, in this case, the difference
between escape and incineration—

a seam notched for her in the secret ether,
should she stumble into it,
to pass through unharmed.

To cast wider our search,
Marie and I tuned to different networks,
watching for Katy among the fleeing hordes.

They had talked the night before
about what she’d wear to her client meeting:
a brown suit, a black bag; her black hair

was shorter since last I’d seen her.
All day I peered into the TV—punching
the cordless: Katy’s office, home, cell,

office, home, cell, over and over—scanning
faces unraveling diabolically
like smoldering newsreels, smeared

with hallucinatory smoke and ash.
They came in ranks, wave upon wave,
leagued across the avenues:

the diaspora into John’s Apocalypse.
Those still on their feet staggered.
Others lay in the street snarled

in writhing weirs of fire-hose.
The firmament had been napalmed:
orange-plumed, spooling black. Volcanic stench.

Somewhere beyond the screen,
inside that television from which we all, that day,
received, like communion, the new covenant,

for all time, was my niece in her brown suit
and new haircut, her purse—outfitted
for her seventh day in Manhattan,

her fourth day at the World Financial Center,
six days past her twenty-second birthday.
I would spy her, coax her back to us

through the TV’s lurid circuitry
into my living room. Our perfect girl,
my princess—she had lost her shoes—

wandering the skewered heart of the future—
finally arrived, black-hooded, afire,
eerily mute—toward the Upper East side:

a bus, a shared cab with an old man
who befriended her, then barefoot blocks
and blocks to her apartment on 89th Street

where she dialed her parents and announced
with the sacrificial modesty of saints
that she had made it home.

Joseph Bathanti (seventh NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)

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September Mourning

O limbo of life—
the wings dapple
mourning,
a twitter in the field,
color in the wind,
a spider on feet of purest gossamer.

Trust goes up in flames.

Girders

change

loved ones,

doors strange to touch,

all the lovely times

sinking

in the face of the steely plumes

breaking apart

brilliances
under the jet, so silver and
beautiful—
gone—

the going on
lifting

dreams

competing for truth

for dear life’s sake

holding the screams

held together by need.

Give me breath.

Cockleburs on an old man’s knees—
roses November leaves—

the memory of this place

catches us
off center

loses hold
and holds to nothing,

the world seeming
seamless
days of glory,

a tapestry
of women and men
dawdling
and scuffling their
shoes, eyeing their toes,

knowing there is nothing to say

that might lighten the load
turning around, coming back, onward,
never to finish telling the story

numb in the name
of the fluttering flag
o say can the tattered one
defend the fences fenced around
and in and through this century of all times
the way a baby’s wrapped in a shawl or shirt for the
tucking into the arms
clutching dear life so thin
the stubborn holding on
a giving in

Shelby Stephenson (eighth NC Poet Laureate, 2015-2017)

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Crossing the Rift – North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath
edited by Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti, © 2021
Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Available from Press 53 and from Bookmarks

Links to the NC Arts Council regarding current and past NC Poets Laureate

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