Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remembering 9/11

I noticed some flags at half-mast today, others not. Silly me--I honestly didn't realized the significance of the date as I wrote a check for the season's first big round bales of alfafa hay this morning. So I asked a random customer--why are the flags at half-mast today? Only when he said"September 11" did it click in my head.

It seemed odd that some were and some weren't. None of the factories or warehouses on my bus route--none of the "trades"--honored the destruction of the World Trade Center in that manner. But the "agencies"--post office, university, etc.--did.

My slowness to recognize the date brought to mind the poem I wrote in tribute several years ago. No matter how thoroughly television can impress on us the tragedies and traumas around the globe, it is the things that we personally experience in the very center of our lives that move us most powerfully, and reshape not just our daily lives but our very beings.


I rose from the ashes of a dying marriage
To help the roofers nail new shingles on my home.
The new point of view helped me take heart,
Surveying from above the work of my hands
Those hard years, starting the farm.
Now I would carry on the work, alone
As I had always done without knowing.

August is a harsh season for shingling,
But we did it anyway, working morning and night
And carrying out the rest of life in between.

Then one day from the roof I saw a lamb fall.
Another lay next to it:
One dead, the other dying
While I perched high above, like an angel.
I was their shepherd, new to the job,
A stranger to death,
Innocent of the forms in which it might come.
I fled to the vet with the dying lamb
Gasping in a dog crate in the back seat.
Declaring it unfit for salvation,
The emotionless vet drove home the needle to end its life.
I sat with it while it died,
Crouched on the wet cement at the base of a grey wall,
A tiny lamb surrounded by thick steel bars
Designed to contain crashing cattle.
Without ceremony, the vet carved open the carcass.
The rumen writhed with parasites, swollen red;
The flesh was pale and bloodless.

The lab work would be complete in three days.

By then, three more were dead.
One fell before my very eyes,
Running slower and slower until she stumbled,
Dropped to her knees, seized,
Breathed her last breath
And lay as if gazing into heaven with blank eyes
While her comrades slowly returned to her, and sniffed,
And, finding she'd gone, matter-of-factly wandered on.

In all, eight graves were dug in the sun-baked soil that year,
My innocence buried little by little in the stubborn earth,
The final dust settled with sweat and tears.
My heart seemed to have emptied itself,
My eyes were numb, my arms ached
From the weight of the shovel
And the memory of cradling new lambs, now dead.
I steeled my will each morning to go do chores
And review the list of the missing: Are there more?

And every morning and evening,
We nailed new shingles to the roof
While I gazed across the fields of the farm
To distant mounds of dirt.

August is a harsh season for burying the dead,
But I did it anyway, working morning and night
And carrying out the rest of life in between.

Three years later,
At the end of the high heat of summer,
In September, I savored a season of no significant graves:
Perhaps too soon.
The grass was still green, despite drought;
The birds beginning to flock for fall,
The sky an impeccable blue
As white vapor trails suddenly looped and turned,
Writing question marks in the sky.
In the bright, joyful morning,
My heart leapt with pleasure at the fine, mysterious sight:
Was someone else too glad, that morning,
To fly in straight lines?

And then, the news came--for once, real novelty--
That elegant, creative act of destruction
Stopped heart after heart in rippling waves
Spreading outward from a far center
Until I was touched.
Shock--grief and anger and disbelief--took hold
The hearts of everyone I knew
And shook them savagely.
But mine? I seemed exempt,
Calm and clear, accepting of what was unfolding,
Unafraid. Amused, even, I hesitate to admit,
At the sudden upside-downness of everyone else's world.

Twenty-five sheep and their fat lambs
Chewed one cud and coughed up another,
Laid in the shade of the far trees
On the green grass of three-year-old graves.
They're healthy; I'm a better shepherd now;
I farm alone; it suits me well.

September is a harsh season for accepting,
But I did it anyway, working morning and night
And carrying out the rest of life in between.


These many years later, I continue to "carry out the rest of life in between." This year, again, there have been losses of sheep to worms. This year, again, I rebuild the house and farm.

This year, again, the morning was clear and autumnal, the sky an impeccable blue: a season for being glad of life itself. September--as well as the other eleven months of each year--has become and easier time for accepting. The grass grows green, recovering from the tenants' overgrazing, but there is no trace of the old graves.

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