September 12, 2006


I remember the silence. It was five years ago, but I can still see their faces. They were all eighteen years old, most living away from home for the first time. Most had been awake all night, unable to pull themselves away from the horrific images on the television screen, trying desperately to get through jammed phone lines, and waiting, waiting for news, waiting to hear who was alive and who was dead. The early morning truck had delivered newspapers to the building, and a few students carried the papers into class with them.

These students have all graduated and all gone onto grad school or jobs. Many have returned home, to the City Like No Other, the city whose skyline was changed dramatically that day. This week, I am thinking of them.


for nick
a jedi knight from brooklyn
who wants to change the world
who during class once took a vote
on which body part he should pierce

for brooklyn mike and long island sean
who claimed on the botany hike
that they were getting attacked
by flesh-eating spiders

for manhattan nick
who almost got thrown out of school
for rock-climbing in the elevator shaft

for jen who says the symbol
of her home community is the staten island landfill

for crissy who will forever clash with her feminist teacher
about whether or not she should work at hooters

for eldon and donald
who had to explain to me what a ho was

for dave from queens who thinks pot should be legal

for phil who says
gay men rock

for hugh who is not afraid to wear a badge of silence

i want to write a poem for my students
but today there is nothing i can teach them
that they do not already know
more deeply than i do

for evan who once swam in the fountain outside the world trade center
for lauren who wears a ny city transit card on her sleeve
who plans to be a vet
although we all think she should run for president

"it’s amazing" lauren writes "how close people
get to one another when they are scared"

for ellie who puts exquisite tiny drawings
inside the pupil of an eye
who sees things no one else sees

for gena who says that leaving her neighborhood
was escaping the abyss

"i felt so guilty" writes gena "safe here upstate
when everyone i love was in danger"

for sasha who has sad eyes
who doesn’t want to be here

for andrew who finds wildlife in queens

for greg who looks way too young on his military id
who is so skinny
that they will send him into the crevices
to search for bodies

if i could write a poem today
if i had words for this silence
i would dedicate it to my students

for mike who lost his uncle
for steve who lost his cousin
for daven who will go to two funerals in one day

for wellington
who taught me the spanish word for hope

for all these kids who always looked to the sky
to find the twin towers
to orient themselves
to find their way home


Girl said...

thank you, jo(e)

Mrs. Coulter said...

Thank you, jo(e).

The final stanza hits home. Although I was not a child of New York City, I too used to orient myself by looking for the Twin Towers. It's easy to get turned around when you come out of the subway downtown, and the WTC was such a useful landmark...navigating Manhattan is a very different experience without it...and a constant reminder of its loss.

Ianqui said...

That's beautiful, jo(e). I hope they can all find their peace someday.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...


molly said...

beautiful and poignant as always. I wondered what you were going to say. Your students are lucky to have you for a teacher.

mc said...

this is gorgeous and well said, jo(e). thanks for sharing it.

AAYOR said...

I wanted to avoid all but the most personal memories of 9/11 this year. I'm so glad that you posted this.

This is absolutely beautiful, jo(e). I am struck by just how affected I was by it.

Scrivener said...


liz said...

That's beautiful.

ppolarbear said...


ccw said...


Anonymous said...

my roommate and I cried.


Erin said...

The world was one way and then it was completely different. Thanks for the post.

Yankee, Transferred said...

Perfectly lovely.

Kyla said...

Wonderfully said.

Marie said...

Just stunning. Thank you.

BeachMama said...

What a wonderful poem Jo(e). Thank you for sharing with us.

zelda1 said...

That was beautiful.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...


thanks jo(e)

Chip said...

jo(e), what an amazing piece of writing...

Liesl said...

That was gorgeous.

Thank you, jo(e).

Songbird said...

jo(e), thank you for this.

kathy a said...

i have stayed away from the news and from political blogs, but i keep crying when i see the personal rememberances. that's not a bad thing -- you knew and loved your students so well, and they all just popped up in my office. i know they are different now, but hope they are well. thanks, jo(e).

joanna said...

That last verse really nails the feeling. Thanks for posting this.

henna said...

Thanks jo(e) - your students are also lucky to have you as a friend...

YourFireAnt said...

Jo(e), I've read dozens of 9/11 poems for the CR over the past few years, and none has been any good. After while I just avoided them altogether. But your poem yesterday succeeded. The emotion, the sparse style, the raw breakingheartedness . . . it just filled my chest up. Well done!


listmaker said...

Thank you for that beautiful post.

kate5kiwis said...

yes, thanks jo(e)
we live so far away, yet are so affected by the lives of your fellows.
peace. peace.

Southernmush said...

Hello.....It seems like you have some very special students with bright futures ahead of them. This is a very touching poem. I think that your a very great teacher and it sounds like you inspire your students in many many ways.

I also think that many people feel the samw way about the Twin Towers and about what happened. Tell your students don't ever change. They all sound amazing. I wish I could meet them in person. Keep up the good work !!!

Hilaire said...

Hey, Jo(e), I just saw this. It is a really exquisite piece of writing - wow. You really capture the poignancy of caring for students.