Two Poems for Today

Five years ago, I published pages from my journal to make sense of 9/11. [1] On this day, ten years after the attacks, the only thing I can offer is poetry. I had been working on the first in my head over the last few years until it came spilling out of me last week along with all of the tears. The other is from Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno’s award-winning book of poems, Slamming Open the Door.


She showed up with her shovel and started digging,
The woman from across the street whom I had never met.
We dug for a quiet hour that was really only a minute
Or two beneath the severe blue of a Wyoming April morning.
“My father died when I was about your age.”
There was too much snow to use the blower so we dug
With the shovels reserved for light October dustings
Which swirled around on my birthday,
The first snowfall after he brought us here.
“We suspected when you didn’t clear your driveway yesterday.”

Yesterday was still there. Waking to a too early phone call.
The shriek and commotion and “We have to go in a few minutes.”
Waiting in a hospital conference room with two other families,
Coworkers coming and going all day with news and snacks and hope.
Hours later, the sun already setting on a snowy scene
Beyond the window across the hospital bed in the unneeded room
Where I had come to escape the condolences,
The hand on my shoulder and a voice I almost knew:
“C’mon back. Your mom needs you.”

The smoke from her chimney rose into the clear sky.
“Thank you.” It was all I knew how to say in that moment.
That evening in my basement, Maggie the skier sat across the void from me,
In silence, knowing what she had to say, what I vaguely knew.
“My father died the year before you moved here.”
I apologized in sympathy knowing how hard this visit was for her
And retreated into silence, so different than my awkward mania
When friends brought by a potted plant and a disco LP.

Snow melts fast during a Wyoming spring and was gone
Before the funerals of the four people aboard the flight.
I had tried to read a few words for the occasion,
But they got lost somewhere over the casket.
After the service, one of his fellow paramedics
Put his hand on my shoulder and confided.
“We all had our difficulties. He was hard, but he was trying.
He talked about you all the time, more than his own kids.”
After hard years we were learning how to live together.

Grief keeps its own timetable, making regular stops at first.
The effects collected at the scene. The ashes in a cardboard box.
The coroner’s report I accidentally saw with details I never wanted to know.
The telemarketer calls trickling in over the rest of the spring:
“No. I’m sorry. My stepfather died in a plane crash.”
Now the ghost train stops just a few times each year
As I shovel clean the driveway after a Nor’easter.
Instead of leaving reminders, it transports me
Back to the snow of those Wyoming mornings
And all of the people who helped me through it.


Poem About Light

You can try to strangle light:
use your hands and think
you’ve found the throat of it,
but you haven’t.
You could use a rope or garrote
or a telephone cord,
but the light, amorphous, implacable,
will make a fool of you in the end.

You could make it your mission
to shut it out forever,
to crouch in the dark,
the blinds pulled tight—

still, in the morning,
a gleaming little ray will betray you, poking
its optimistic finger
through a corner of the blind,
and then more light,
clever, nervy, impossible,
spilling out from the crevices
warming the shade.

This is the stubborn sun,
choosing to rise,
like it did yesterday,
like it will tomorrow.
You have nothing to do with it.
The sun makes its own history;
light has its way.

— Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno


1 — The curious can find all of those posts here: June 30; September 1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 16, 24; and October 5, 2001. [Back . . .]

This entry was posted in General, Historical Record, This is who we are. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Two Poems for Today

  1. Scully says:

    Humbling and beautiful.
    thank you for sharing.

  2. Jess says:

    jeff, your poem is beautiful. thank you for sharing. i am so sorry for your pain, but glad that you are able to express it. i am in tears because one of my college friends lost her dad unexpectedly this week, and i can see her pain echoed in your words too. thank you.

  3. I really don’t have any words after reading your poem, but I knew I couldn’t leave without saying something. Anything. And all I can think of is an inadequate, I’m sorry for your loss.

  4. Jeff Mather says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and condolences. The events in my poem happened almost two decades ago, and the pain is—I am glad to say—quite attenuated. Enough time has passed that usually it’s not even in the conscious part of my mind, though so many good and bad memories are always just below the surface in there somewhere.

    I’m really doing okay. The First was rough for a completely unexpected reason—it was a random arrival of grief, I guess—and finishing the poem on Saturday evening was a bit wrenching. I didn’t really want to throw myself back into those memories, but once started I needed to finish. I’m sure grief will make other stops—expected and not—but I’m not looking down the tracks for it, and soon enough I won’t be giving it much thought at all.

    Jess: I am truly sorry to hear about your friend’s father.

  5. Pingback: The Days Grow Short When You Reach September « Moments of Wonderful

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