The Alphabet of the Dead
written in 2002, on September 11
And the wind rose to kiss their lips
and the dust rose and whirled around them
and touched their shoulders and brushed
their cheeks. And the wind swirled to stroke
their foreheads and wipe their tears.
And they walked into the open-air
mausoleum, and the names read
became a poem, and the names became
a chant, and the names became a prayer.
And the dust blew in their eyes and the dust
blew into their mouths and dust blew
onto their tongues and into the crevices of ears
and spoke like no speech could ever speak.
And a circle of honor was set, a ring, in the center
of the open grave, like a hole in the earth,
like a place of resurrection, like an empty circus ring.
And from a distance, from the view of birds and gods,
a living wreath was formed, surrounding the ring
with those who mourned for those who died.
All the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, children
and daughters, sons and cousins, aunts and uncles,
and the couples and strangers, hand and hand, descending.
And there were dogs, and cats, and birds,
the animals, the loyal pets who waited, and waited
and waited and died waiting.
And all the names, all ages, all sexes, all religions,
all strata, from many countries, from many states, from all
boroughs, all people, a family of strangers.
The dust of angels, of unsuspecting soldiers.
It is painful to listen to the list of names numbing
to listen to the names, necessary
to listen to the list of names. The names become
a poem, the names become a prayer.
And what have we learned from this
beyond that men can weep out loud in public
and embrace each other in grief and that
race means nothing? Beyond that people will still
talk on cell phones in the street, even while
the alphabet of the dead is read aloud? Beyond
that we must live for today but plan for tomorrow?
In this pit, all the living wear the same face, lips tight
with corners down, squinting between tears.
The living gather earth and dust into plastic bottles
what little they can take home.
The dust of angels now angels in a bottle, Genies
in bottles, wishes never to come true. Some pick up
pebbles, perhaps pieces of bone. Small relics
in this rubble, what little they can take home
along with a list of names. Music and poems
cradle grief. And the list goes on, a year later, repeated
surnames with such different faces, scrolling down
my TV screen tells me we are one. That all that is left
is dust tells us we are one. That we all cringe
with dust in our eyes tells us we are one
on this beach, desert, tightrope, consecrated ground.
Note: A version of this poem, with music by Steve Worthy, can be found on You Tube. Search The Alphabet of the Dead, 9-11, Mary Crescenzo