The Alphabet of the Dead: A Meditation Poem for September 11

In commemoration of the Sept. 11 tragedy, NYC, an meditation poem entitled, The Alphabet of the Dead

The Alphabet of the Dead 

  written in 2002, on September 11


And the wind rose to kiss their lips

and the dust rose and whirled around them

and touched their shoulders and brushed

their cheeks. And the wind swirled to stroke

their foreheads and wipe their tears. 


And they walked into the open-air

mausoleum, and the names read

became a poem, and the names became

a chant, and the names became a prayer.


And the dust blew in their eyes and the dust

blew into their mouths and dust blew

onto their tongues and into the crevices of ears

and spoke like no speech could ever speak.


And a circle of honor was set, a ring, in the center

of the open grave, like a hole in the earth,

like a place of resurrection, like an empty circus ring. 


And from a distance, from the view of birds and gods,

a living wreath was formed, surrounding the ring

with those who mourned for those who died.


All the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, children

and daughters, sons and cousins, aunts and uncles,

and the couples and strangers, hand and hand, descending.


And there were dogs, and cats, and birds,

the animals, the loyal pets who waited, and waited

and waited and died waiting.


And all the names, all ages, all sexes, all religions,

all strata, from many countries, from many states, from all

boroughs, all people, a family of strangers.

The dust of angels, of unsuspecting soldiers. 


It is painful to listen to the list of names numbing

to listen to the names, necessary

to listen to the list of names. The names become

a poem, the names become a prayer. 


And what have we learned from this

beyond that men can weep out loud in public

and embrace each other in grief and that


race means nothing? Beyond that people will still

talk on cell phones in the street, even while

the alphabet of the dead is read aloud? Beyond

that we must live for today but plan for tomorrow?


In this pit, all the living wear the same face, lips tight

with corners down, squinting between tears.

The living gather earth and dust into plastic bottles

what little they can take home. 


The dust of angels now angels in a bottle, Genies

in bottles, wishes never to come true.  Some pick up

pebbles, perhaps pieces of bone.  Small relics

in this rubble, what little they can take home

along with a list of names.  Music and poems


cradle grief.  And the list goes on, a year later, repeated

surnames with such different faces, scrolling down

my TV screen tells me we are one. That all that is left

is dust tells us we are one.  That we all cringe

with dust in our eyes tells us we are one

on this beach, desert, tightrope, consecrated ground.    



Note: A version of this poem, with music by Steve Worthy, can be found on You Tube. Search The Alphabet of the Dead, 9-11, Mary Crescenzo

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JM September 11, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Perhaps if they knew through their own eyes true, that day bodies fell into my view. There is no better place, there is no worse. We seek that same face, betrayed though a verse. They hate us so, but I don't know why. That sound of death, forever nigh, shouldn't be stolen for a lie, or fleeting chance to say goodbye. ~me
Mary Crescenzo September 11, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Thank you. What you wrote was also poetry - the images, the transendence, the way you used repetition and contrast in a unique way.
Mary Crescenzo September 11, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Thank you for sharing this. I am so taken by the responses to my poem. JM, your poem, as well as the other in the first and second comment writer above, has given me a deeper way of thinking and feeling about this day.
JM September 11, 2012 at 06:19 PM
And thank you Mary for inspiring us enough to take up the pen this morning, even on a whim. It flows so easily. I do not believe any event in life (and I've had a few tragic ones) will be as raw, unbelievable and horrifying as this day was and remains to be even 11 years on.
Rose Marie Raccioppi September 12, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Poetry is indeed the calling of the deepest part of ourselves to expression. It questions, it imagines, it laments, it holds to vision, it is the pulsing, the beating of all that touches our sensibilities, our emotions, our very sense of SELF and BEING. And so we share heartfelt and soul felt words, impressions and a sense of knowing. All are received with gratitude... And so too, my question of 9/11... Where Does The Pain Go Where does the pain go When no longer can you take hold When the fires devour hope When the moment claims life Where does the pain go When man annihilates man When terror rules reason and heart When the unspeakable defies God’s name Where does the pain go When the innocence is lost When suspicion and fear hover When trust is betrayed Where does the pain go When a life is saved When love holds a memory When grace touches the tearful heart Where does the pain go When spirit and soul awaken faith When destiny abides in God’s light When the silence offers guidance Where does the pain go When determination and resolve assemble When purpose and plan are set forth When in the name of God, life, beauty and love are called. Rose Marie Raccioppi Poet Laureate Orangetown, New York A link to a vocal rendition is posted on: APOGEE Poet: Where Does The Pain Go ~ 9/11 - http://www.apogeepoet.blogspot.com/2012/09/where-does-pain-go-911.html


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