Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lest We Forget

I'm sitting in a hotel lobby. CNN is on the television. Nine years later, the 9/11 tributes and remembrances are still nearly too upsetting for me to watch. But it's still on my mind. The complete confusion of that day. The tragedy of it all. Nine years but it doesn't even seem like one. So many things have happened to me since and so many of them I have barely any memory of...but that day is seared in my memory. I remember where I was. I remember where I went out to dinner to try to escape it all. I remember the CD I bought at the only store around that was open. I wasn't trying to disrespect the pain and sadness of the moment by doing normal, mundane things. I just didn't know what to do. I just knew I couldn't sit there and watch any more of it on television. I had already been watching for eight hours straight. I couldn't take anymore.

So today I pay my own little tribute to the innocent victims of that day. I didn't know any of them. But I feel connected to them all. Maybe you know this poem, maybe not, but it deserves (or maybe commands) your attention today. Its sweeping language and vivid imagery--it's a work of art and I hesitate to call it beautiful because I don't know if that's the world. But I will call it perfect, because I think it is.

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 
by Martín Espada

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center 
Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana, 
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
 Please take the time to read the rest of the poem here. Thanks for reading today. I appreciate it.


  1. Thanks for posting this -- it's very well done.

  2. Oh, go ahead and call it beautiful. It is. The kind of beautiful that breaks your heart.

    soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
    across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
    Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

    So gorgeous.

    I was home that day working, and my younger daughter was home sick from school. I kept shuttling back and forth between her bedroom and mine, where the TV news was incomprehensible to me.

    A few years later, on Sept. 11, my sweet niece Lily was born, and now Sept. 11 is about joy and celebration to me. Not in any disrespect or forgetting, but in that realization that joy and terror live side by side in our world. I'm thankful to have something happy to think about on that day each year, even though I always remember the attacks and victims and heroes, too.

    Thanks for sharing this. I love praise poems.

  3. I remember Matt performing this one. It was incredible. Hope all is well.

  4. You are so right, Bob. Don't think I could ever forget it. All is definitely well here, hope the same is true in TN.