Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th

I was in Clio Hall on Princeton's campus when the news came through about the first plane. By the time morning was over, we had closed the department, canceled all the events scheduled to kick off the new academic year, and hoped to feel safer at home. I remember reading this some days after and put it on my desk at home where seven years later, it still sits in my in-basket.
(For those of you who might not know, Toni M. is a now-retired Professor at Princeton. Even if you didn't know that she was a recipient of the Nobel prize, she cut an intimidating and intriguing figure around campus. I suppose I was especially drawn to her expression of that raw period.)

The Dead of September 11
Toni Morrison
September 13, 2001

Some have God's words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead - the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers, and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, war, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil - wanton
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister, whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them, calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.

Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.

To speak to you, the dead of September, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say-no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
have become.

And I have nothing to give either-except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot
of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.


paula said...

chris, what did she teach and what was the reason for her nobel win? boy... 9/11 certainly brings back the memories. if i remember correctly, mom and lee were staying with you, right? you lost cable or satellite for the video emissions were coming from the world trade center. what a horrible memory.
treasure today. lovelove

Christine Ricci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Ricci said...

Her prize was in Literature and the reason - she is an amazing writer!