September 11th wasn’t called that in the first hours and days
when you first called your friends and mother and wondered
What did you say? You looked up, the sky offered no
suggestions. The leaves were heavy not ready to fall.
It’s not that this has never happened before
it’s just that you’ve never gotten here on time.
The sun was still in your eyes and there weren’t words and
you couldn’t make out the gash a word would cover.
June 6th is not called June 6th, it’s D-Day. I didn’t know what it was
until recently, it’s not Pearl Harbor. Recently someone told me that,
and explained what D-Day actually was, but then I forgot and had to
look it up again just now. There is no consensus about what the “D”
stands for, though it is generally understood that a top secret military
event might begin at H-Hour, D-Day.
What is happening right now.
That’s what I want to get to but by the time I learn about it
and think it over, language hardens over experience. This is happening right now to me.
The radius I walk is quite small.
I’m asking you to talk a little harder.
My mom pronounces the famous names of certain men, like George
McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and Adlai Stevenson, who distinguished
themselves I simply will never know how.
Is Pluto not a planet?
And if not is it because we all adored it too much?
My sense of tableau is not at all up to date
In my heart there are still only 4 billion people
and one of them is Michael Jackson.
A modem dangles.
I try to memorize a few current facts.
I try to find out if the Iraq War has ended.
It’s easy to remember events named after people, like Sherman’s March
to the Sea and Custer’s Last Stand.
You know, I have also marched to the sea, scorching crops and
stealing livestock, I
“stood upon the very ground whereon was fought the bloody battle of
July 22d, and could see the copse of wood where McPherson fell”
but no one who knows my name points a finger.
That was the last time I visited Georgia.
I heard about River Phoenix dying outside
Johnny Depp’s nightclub in typing class
and I misplaced a g
That was the beginning of the fear of things sticking, things falling
from my fingers into a wrong pause, and when I knew
we could eat our own children should they fail to thrive
like Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and
all called back
in birth order
Then a star fell from Orion’s belt
and everyone seemed to be looking at me
and even or especially though I was innocent
I felt like the iceberg the ship strikes in a love story.
I had imagined something liquid that hardens later, but a turtle is actually
born with its shell.
Fish breathing, ice freezing, skin scabbing
it’s easy to see double.
I just had to look up D-Day again! The “largest amphibious invasion in
That I cannot remember certain historical facts may be the fault of the
facts themselves. They may not be memorable, lacking the prosody of
a one small step for man or I only regret that I have but one life to give
for my country which I could never forget, it would be like forgetting
Saturn has rings. This is happening right now. In countries both with
and without names, with and without seats in the General Assembly,
these regrets are happening. Nathan Hale is being hung. Washington is
crossing the Delaware. Sometimes entire wars lack meter, like the War
of 1812 we never learned about.
I was a Caesarean
timely rather than triumphant
I accomplish my feats by anger not pluck
It is extremely unlikely that Caesar himself was born by C-section since
no woman would survive the procedure for another 1,500 or so years,
and Caesar’s mother did survive—she herself has a small Wikipedia
I know so little about anatomy, I have to look up my own parts.
Apparently, there are several layers called meninges
protecting the brain and spine.
The outermost one is called the dura mater, the hard mother
and it is between this membrane and the delicate vertebrae
that the epidural space is found and the catheter inserted
should a person suffering great pain
choose to demonstrate the logic of relief.
What is happening right now is—unnameable.
It is the meeting place of the individual and the many, the common cold
and the epidemic.
It is epic.
There is no name for this day
except Memorial Day
when we publicly remember the war dead who reproach us for our many
No more dead than anything
struck by a true and fast force.
Privately, today, I pledge allegiance to the flag we flew on that one
sparkling night in front of the art museum and to the republic within the
republic for which it stands, to the temporary stations where we meet to
plan our little arrests.
Because each day is both a birthday and a deathday, both joyous and
tragic, like a war bride carried over the ocean.
There’s a lot of filmic detritus in your dreams
of something smoke-filled, drab-green, and young—
that’s it, that’s the war in history where sex first appears.
Not all of it took place in or over the eponymous country, but you put on
your headpiece and travel there in a beaded coach.
You see your dad. He’s sitting in his place at the key-punch machine.
He looks nerdy and nervous and so public in his cushy post.
You stay for a while in your virtual Vietnam
where they call it the American, the American War.
Like so many things, the past is not comforting. It shouts its useful
instructions too loud. There’s no sense in ignoring these messages but
in the hospice of our brother they are unwelcome. We say Past leave
us alone. And the past says, you are alone, that’s the whole point, and
it speaks in a vernacular we don’t understand. While I used to take
some delight in thinking of my forebears, in imagining myself related to
something significant and old, it is relieving now to discover that no one
is watching nor can they understand us, and we can’t understand them as
we perform the cremation and think about our loved one almost gone.
Southbound on the Major Deegan
I always start to think of the twin towers
falling both with and without sound
both in and out of focus
already dated. I have also watched
the Challenger explode, the Bay Bridge
collapse, Rodney King beaten, and the
Columbine kids. I saw a giant wave
sweep its monster paw across a coastal
town, and miners’ families praying for
redemption. I heard interviews with abducted
children, children whose friends were killed
in the hallways of their schools,
barefoot children whose brothers are martyrs.
I watched some of this before and some of it
I watched now and once again, the bulk of it
is available on the internet now.
We are currently standing at ground zero.
You can see where before and before meet
in a messy seam, in a street sweeper’s coat.
Whether life begins at conception or birth, does it really matter?
We are all aborted.
If you’re haunted in Hiroshima or busking in Bayside, does it matter?
We are heirs to the Manhattan Project. And do be forewarned that life is
You can go to Mount Sinai and watch it reset. You can’t resist.
You long to float among improved air.
Ground zero longs for you.
It wants you back at the weightless center.
All your old friends are marching toward that horizon
and also toward that one.
We live in a very strange time
only slightly less strange than before.
Every shell on the beach comes from a sea creature
every star in the sky the beak of a bird.
Every blade of grass was once the hair of a dying man,
it falls out and the doctors scatter it in the fields. I see
a pattern in the way things go, in the deep sky objects stargazers love,
in the abandoned turtle shells and the donated books and the plastic gum
wrappers that will never decompose.
No one has ever had it like this before.
Lesley Yalen lives in Northampton, MA. Her poems have appeared in jubilat, Glitterpony, Invisible Ear, Octopus, notnostrums, Encyclopedia Vol. 2, H_NGM_N, and elsewhere. Her chapbook The Beginning In is available from minutes BOOKS.