Most of us are spending our time during quarantine as “hunker-downers”,
as the actor Leslie Jordan likes to say on Instagram. While I have been
hunkering down, I’ve been looking through boxes of old negatives, hoping to
find some happy family photo gems and rekindle some memories of happy times. I
found a few of these, but I also found some photographs I took on September 11,
2001. Thus, the negative weighted the positive
down once again.
I did not take many photographs on September 11, 2001, as I just stayed home and watched TV. At that time, I lived close to the Pentagon, and was
able to get some sense of what was happening from my balcony, but I was not in danger. For some reason, I was compelled to take
photographs of the television screen, and I also took photos of helicopters, fighter jets,
and one soldier who appeared to be walking back from the Pentagon.
I think I know why I am posting this now, but I am not sure how to verbalize
it. I know I have the explanation, but it is sort of distant and dull … in some
synapse somewhere in my hippocampus, but at the same time, maybe I am just too timid to express my emotions. I like to avoid the sentimental, but, this whole composition, whatever it is, is easily pinged as
Billy Collin’s poem “The Names” reveals a more lucid explanation for
posting on this topic than I ever could:
Billy Collins, Former U.S. Poet Laureate:
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name –
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner –
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening – weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds –
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the
I find the last six lines of this poem especially powerful. The last two lines