Poems as Memory

Thank you to my new friend, Charlotte McDaniel, who asked me the question “What do I remember?” of 9/11/2001, prompting me to look back.

As with many people, I have very vivid memories of that time. The night before I had flown back from a healing conference in CA, a 10 PM landing at O’Hare airport in Chicago (I had considered staying over another night). In the morning, my husband called me more than a dozen times to wake me, very intense, making sure I was OK and to check on our kids at school. He worked in downtown Chicago, near tall buildings that might have been targets. Personally scary. I remember him being amazing in calming those at his law office.

For me the warm feelings and processing from the incredible conference (Cancer as a Turning Point) were mostly pushed aside in the stunned days ahead. Anything I had planned to write seemed trivial. At some point writing began again as a way to cope and process and express. I did not normally watch much TV and never the news, but like so many others, I was glued to the set. Until my son (age 17) asked me to stop watching, it was making me seriously depressed.

When putting together my first book, As Easy as Breathing, I realized that those who have been through cancer or some other life-threatening experience, learned a lot about living with fear and even to thrive. So the scope of the book got bigger and I included some of my poems from after 9/11.The times we are living in are still deeply infused with fear. And that is not my way to look at things, not healthy and not healing. I try to screen what gets in to me, filtering out the fear-based stuff to a high degree. Or at least to be more aware and choose how I want to live, what I want to believe.

Here are the poems from my poetic journal from that time. It was like powerful time travel for me to read them. What do you remember? What changed for you and might still be healed? What needs to be addressed? What did we learn then, and now ten years later? Who are we, in light of all this?

(In the following poems, I think you will be able to see the point at which I fully surrendered—in the sense of letting all the darkness go, trusting in Divine help.)

9/10/01

Reprise: Flying Home

What is written on the face of the Earth
in swirls and scars and canyons deep,
in rouge rock and snow covered peaks,
in pools of a thousand azure eyes,
in snaking rivers and river valleys?

From within, the voice of the mother,
soothing, healing, scolding and weary.
Where forest grew to clear the air,
if not vanished, diminished, earth-skin exposed,
open sores to fester.

Does hope still rise with the dawn or the moon?
Yes, however improbable.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/11/01

Friend or Foe

How do you tell friend from foe?
If you could read hearts you’d know.

One whose heart is open could never harm;
one whose heart is armored

can squeeze out empathy and compassion,
could be capable of any outrage from misdirected passion.

Be wary though do not freeze out.
Notice and discern—trust or not trust.

A friend can be any age, any color,
any height, weight, sex or gender,

can speak any language, wear any clothes
worship any divinity.

A foe does not wear a black hat
or look any different,

it is inside where anger bubbles and hatred brews
that an enemy is made from me or you.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/11/01

Still Percolating

“What name do you call yourself
when you want your soul to answer?”

When I can accept myself “as is”
all else will align to that sacred name.

What is it?

“Mother of My Self.”

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/12/01

The Day After

When we all sat on the swing between time
before choosing to jump,

I did not say “I wish you a life of nothing happening,”
I whispered, “I wish you strength and courage

and a life full of all life has to offer.”
And we jumped, landing in these bodies and families

and in this particular place and time.
Together we came from the stars, the sun,

each navigating a separate course, until we find
our way back together and back home.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

From my book, As Easy as Breathing

 

9/14/01

Petty Concerns Fall Away

Though the day is sunny,
cleansing rain falls in abundance.

Hold my hand, kiss me full,
sing me your rich, dark song.
Petty concerns fall away.

Can I allow feeling,
will the ocean wash me clear?
Will those who beg for comfort

allow me peace,
those gone and those who remain?
I call to the Mother of My Self

who answers with compassion,
eyes of infinite pools,
petty concerns fall away.

I rock with my arms around,
holding the essential questions,
“Who am I in relation to this?

How is my course altered,
what am I to do, being true to who I am?”
I rock in the silence

and wait, still.
Petty concerns fall away.
I wait for clarity.

Breathe out…
breathe in…

chest aches from expansion.

Breathe out…
breathe in…

sing my sweetest, sad song,
some notes right, some notes wrong.
Trusting, I have prepared for the unknown,

now I step in
and listen.
Petty concerns fall away.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

From my book, As Easy as Breathing

 

9/14/01

No Need

No need for vengeance,
for retribution.
Those who planned to die

in so horrific a fashion
went through the same door
as those who thought they were

going on vacation; both
were met on the other side by generous spirits,
where each felt the result of their actions

in exquisite agony or ecstasy,
and each will return to life
to receive what is owed or to pay.

I have not forgiven.
I am not unforgiving.
I am in the flow of the River.

I am the River,
one thing leading to another.
In my times here

I have done the courageous and the unspeakable,
it has taken me this long to return home.
No one can know

what was re-balanced,
what was set in motion,
what strength found and compassion.

What was scorned is embraced,
what was demeaned is kissed.
The flag waves over the home of the brave.

Do not strike the faces
of those who look temporarily different.
Do not get sucked into shadow.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/16/01

Willing Myself to Live

A bitter wind
blew off my skin,
leaving me still standing,
bones and sinew exposed and raw,
mind reeling, uncomprehending.

How can I possibly heal,
how can I make sense of this
and live in the world again
as a loving child of a loving God?
I rock with this question:
Who am I in relation to this?

I attempt to breathe,
but air lacks nourishment
and my chest is crushed with weight.
I will my belly to rise and fall.
Breathe in…and out.
I will myself to live.

For protection,
my heart has closed
like the petals of a camera shutter.
Breathe out…breathe in,
into my heart, willing myself to live,
to feel, to risk embrace.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/20/01

The Story Up to Now

How many times did you see
planes hit the World Trade Center,
holes gaping from the sides, black smoke and flames
billowing out, people clinging desperately?

How many times did you see two 110 story towers
unzip from steel girders and cement supports and crash,
spire pointing straight up all the way down?

How many times did eyes take in
the flaming Pentagon, ears hear possible
body counts as survivors checked in…or did not.

It happened only once.  Once was more than enough.

Yet everywhere horrified, scared people
stayed glued in shock to TV’s
where we saw these raw images over and over
so like special effects in a movie,
so chillingly real.

***

On September 9th, a dear friend wrote us while traveling
on the train to New York City, letter postmarked September 10.
She grew up on the lower East side, minutes away from WTC.
I couldn’t get word of her.
Though I felt she was fine,
I longed to hear her voice or see her face in the crowds.
For 6 days I called—no answer.

***

The stories put a human face on unreal tragedy:
the people who weren’t at the towers, but would have been,
who chose to walk the dog a bit longer on a fine, clear fall NY morning,
the chef who had his eyes checked at the optometrist on the first floor,
the CEO who took his son for the first day of “big boy school,”
the financial analyst who went clothes shopping,
the lawyer who overslept and took a later train.

And the ones who were not usually there, but were on that day—
who had a rare meeting on floor 105,
who caught an earlier plane,
who made a UPS delivery.
There were husbands and wives who rode into the city together
and diligent workers at their desks on time
and those whose job it was to rescue the trapped.

So many lost.
So many saved.

Could have been worse.

All planes grounded, the skies are still.
And news filters in of who is thought responsible,
how teams trained here, lived here, drank at local bars,
rented houses and cars, charging on Visa.

Slowly the unimaginable details—and then faces
to put on terrorists, at first suspected,
then “confirmed,” 19 young men.

Cell phone calls from the doomed, in planes, in towers,
“We’ve been hijacked—men with knives.”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

One plane crashes in an Amish field in Pennsylvania—
all aboard killed.  Still the good news—
no one else killed, no crucial symbols demolished.

We piece together from calls what happened, how
a decision was made, knowing the consequence
either way. “I love you…good bye.”

Other buildings teeter, burn, collapse.
Essential services cut off, thousands roam the streets,
faces shocked blank or crumpled, holding pictures of the missing,
clinging to a shred of hope for sons, daughters, husbands, wives,
friends, co-workers, fathers and mothers.

The president speaks.
His presence reassures—one symbol untouched.

The president speaks again, rising to comfort,
“we are a peaceful people, slow to anger,
but once aroused, will…”

How to feel safe,
how to feel?

The immediate fog lifts after a time.
My son asks a favor—stop
watching television. I comply,
I don’t usually watch, but felt compelled.

***

On Sunday after the Tuesday, I call and my friend answers.
Though I chose not to worry,
I am flooded with relief. We talk four hours.
She had been close to the crashes.  She saw the first gaping black hole.
Her friend’s mother had been at that moment having open heart surgery
at St. Vincent’s Hospital where many of the victims would later be taken.
Her mother lives 15 minutes away from the WTC,
my friend could walk over and shop.
She remembered a wonderful dinner at the restaurant on the top.
Reluctantly, we hang up.

***

Slowly, daily life finds a direction.
What to do? How to help?
What to think? How to allow feeling?

Important that more innocents were not lost.
Flags waving everywhere. “God Bless America.”
Whose God?  Who is excluded? Who is included?
Important here of all places, that the melting pot not boil over.

What does this mean for travel, for immigration,
for all dark-skinned, dark-eyed people,
for anyone who is perceived as a bit different?

Can we live with suspicion?  Will we send
all who are unlike ourselves to camps?
We have done it before.

Do we retaliate? Do we bomb? Are we at ease
with escalating loss of life?
Where does it end?

I pray those making decisions will make good ones,
understanding the lessons of history,
considering twenty future generations.
I pray they will be deliberate
and consult not only the “experts,” but also the Divine—

and then listen.

So much is unknowable.

Some mistakes cannot be set right—
innocent men, women and children, once killed
cannot be un-killed.  Yet this identified enemy

who could plan and carry out such
deliberate horrific tragedy,
cannot be allowed to continue.

It is not enough to catch one man,
to track down and eliminate his deadly network,
it is essential that deep changes be made,

not out of fear, but in love,
of ourselves and all others.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/21/01

Life Has Meaning

I can sit in the dark
at a table to eat
and not turn on the light.

I can talk, cry or scream
and rock myself to sleep
in the darkest of dark.

I do not have to seek the light,
like a woman who has been burned.
I can sit still

in the dark unafraid
of what it holds,
patient for what will be revealed.

The strongest true thing
keeping me tied to this world
is the belief that life has meaning.

If that piece of the puzzle is removed,
even as a possibility,
the rest of my life falls away.

What I have been through—
more than some, less than some—
had some purpose, shaped me, led me.

If I let go of that,
I lose any reason to stay.
Yes, I have loved and love still…

I let it all go…
And jump or fly…
Where will I land, if anywhere?

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/21/01

Still

I have nothing to say.
I am sitting still.
I am in the dark
as much as ever.

Illusion of security
ripped away,
hit by a steamroller—
you know how big

and heavy that is,
how deceptively smooth,
how flat you’d be,
what chance of recovery.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/23/01

I GIVE UP

I FUCKING GIVE UP

OK

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

9/24/01 Mon.

I ride the roller coaster
until the end.
I open a door and close it
never to return.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

 

10/3/01

Aftermath

It is as if
the floor was smeared with butter
and I slipped into the air
and stayed suspended there—

not falling or landing hard,
not rising or flying off,
but suspended in space, in time
with the very rules I live by.

No gravity, no pull of the earth,
no cause and effect,
one second not following another,
even breath suspended,

waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

(From my book, As Easy as Breathing
Recorded on my CD, Full Blooming)

 

10/6/01

Shine

We’ve all been around the block
more than a few times.
We’ve seen more than our eyes could hold,
heard more than ears can bear.

We stood out under the sun, the moon,
arms held out in supplication,
hearts bursting with the pain of living.
And the skies opened and swallowed us.

In dreams we traveled to other lands
with more flexible rules governing
behavior of the physical realm.
And we returned refreshed or confused

to begin again.
One clear thing to note:
we are not alone, but with
those here who walk parallel to our steps

and those who responded to our cosmic calls.
But this one thing is true:
the only way to safely navigate
in such treacherous waters

is to attune to our Center, our Core,
align with the Heart and the Source of all power.
Like a lamp plugged into an electric outlet,
we will shine once turned on.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

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4 thoughts on “Poems as Memory

  1. AvatarKaren DePaul

    Hi Margaret,

    Your blog and the many timely poems brought back quite a few forgotten memories from that period.

    On September 8, 2001, I picked up my new 2001 Toyota Camry from Joyce Superstore out in DeKalb. On September 11, it was brought in to a local Toyota dealer to have some undercoating or rustproofing (don't remember) applied, so I used my husband's car to drive to work that morning. Since I wasn't familiar with his car, I didn't touch the radio buttons and turn on the radio as I would have done in my own car; therefore, I hadn't heard of the first plane hitting the first tower. When I arrived at work, everyone was agitated as they had heard about it, but we had no tv reception there, so no tv to watch. Next door at Kinko's, they did have tv reception, so once in a while one of the guys would take a few minutes to see what was going on. We thought it probably was a small private plane that went off course or had problems; never the huge passenger planes that actually were involved. I guess Chris happened to be next door when the second plane hit and he came back, white-faced and told us about it. Didn't personally see any of this until returning home from work that evening, but as you said, I was glued to the tv, watching some of the horrific scenes again and again. While watching the people running from the huge dust cloud or jumping from the buildings, I couldn't possibly imagine how they must have felt. Then seeing the firefighters, policemen, white with dust, and the expressions on their faces…….. Most of my thoughts were about the peoples' feelings.

    I remember the next few days when the skies were quiet and how eerie it felt even though I probably normally paid no attention to planes flying overhead.

    Sometime in the following week, my husband, my daughter, and I drove up to northern Minnesota to clean out my father-in-law's house since he had recently passed away. In that two weeks, we were to go through every item in the house, determine where it would go, see that it got there, have the rooms washed from stem to stern, have some repairs done, and put the house up for sale. As we drove up there, it occurred to me that this was a good time for us to be going almost as far north as Canada, as we would be safe there, away from the big city of Chicago, should another horrific event occur.

    In the days and weeks after 9/11, I became so aware how one incident (actually several) can affect everyone everywhere. Everything slowed down. Stocks fell, purchases of everyday items were reduced significantly almost everywhere, business at the sign shop where I worked slowed almost to a halt, people stayed home where they were safe (hopefully), There probably wasn't a person anywhere who wasn't affected in some way.

    Love,
    Karen

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