16 Acres and a Tree

Milton’s city of devils is now only noise and chaos,
but out of New Pandemonium comes the surprise
of peace. It’s here that capital and cunning reassured
itself, and brought two jets, piloted by amateurs –
demons, faith-fueled, hell-bent, prophet-bound.

Beneath the same sky we stand, look into the
same empty socket of God’s eye. Puzzled tourists,
pilgrims joined with others in wonder’s disbelief.
The air is free of blame, observes the same neutrality,
also supports the helo flights at 200 bucks a seat.

The two-acre bases of the absent towers stare
upwards. We all go there. Water pours into the
iris of a pool, then on into a void we cannot see.
Howie is our guide. He brings us here to listen.
An older, wiser man, the life he loved

he dedicated fighting fire, with fire still fights –
another voluntary role, as priest and visioneer.
Not present then, he lived to seek his friends,
to dig beyond the day of days, to play
lamenting pipes at funerals and wakes.

His future son-in-law survived. Most others died,
rescuing the hopeless – all cut off, brought down,
consumed. He tells it straight, shows us their names,
the cards that picture details of the scene.
He still keeps count of deaths that take

the people who survived to breathe again –
the choking dust that everything became as, in ten
seconds, steel, glass, concrete, plastic,
flesh and bone, came down. Grounded,
dust on dust. He fishes in his bag for images;

his memory for words to fix this day of life
he lives – and makes a modest thing of faith
and magic, creates a place that merely visiting
can’t bring. Here at what can almost not
be named because too many died, too much was

lost or even little learned, now gathers
a planned renewal of those promises and lives:
in lights that take the towers’ boxy shapes;
in streams that cascade and shatter in the deep
and darkened pools, a single stream for each

and every life; in names that get remembered,
on each birthday they no longer know, by single
rose, untouched; and light that bursts though windows,
staining bright a moment every year the second
that the towers fell. In any aftermath comes

cries for terrible redress – comes here a single
growing tree encouraged from the only shattered
trunk they found, and now a place of hope
and hunger, as all around rebuilds that city
in its acres, and its moneyed sharp-eyed dreams.


New York, March 2017

4 thoughts on “16 Acres and a Tree

  1. Greetings from China,

    Valerie and I are in Yantai on the Bohai Sea, visiting our son Jonathan who lectures at the university here. We’re watching the news broadcasts about the build up of tension over North Korea, some 200 miles across the straits. It’s apposite to read a poem about the site of 9/ll while anticipating another tragedy a stone’s throw away. Anyway, thanks for posting the poem.

    16 Acres and a tree

    A part meditation on the site of Ground Zero, the World Trade Centre skyscraper and 9/11. I think I might have dwelt more on the tree, the shattered tree they found in the wreckage, rather than encompass the events of the tragedy, ( “the people who survived…dust on dust”, ) and events we all know from the TV. It’s hard to make something of events we know so well.

    There are times when the poem becomes a narrative, ‘ his future son-in-law survived….he tells….he still keeps…he fishes…he lives – and makes…’

    Some telling contrasts are welcome in a tricky poem: the mood surrounding the solemnity of the location, the import of the tragedy even the air is innocent, and the 200 buck ride on a helicopter over the city. Also, “he makes a place that merely visiting/ can’t bring”

    I very much like the effect of these lines,

    “in lights that take the towers’ boxy shapes; in streams that cascade and shatter in the deep and darkened pools, a single stream for each”

    lines that promise a transformation of tragic experience into symbolic truth, rather than mere narrative – something only poetry can do. I think it’s because the tragedy of 9/11 is so huge and well known, the majority of the poem tends to fall into narrative. However, at this point, the poem does achieve something, especially in the ” single stream” image.

    The same goes for these lines, I feel:

    “light that bursts though windows, staining bright a moment every year”

    the light goes beyond the events it describes and hints at some reality beyond. Could this be developed, John? I notice the poem begins with Milton. Why doesn’t it do more with him? (See “Paradise Lost ” book 9 where Satan is changed to “stupidly good” at his first sight of Eve – evil changed the goodness by beauty. It’s one of the greatest moments in English Lit. It would serve your poem well since you hint at ” hope and hunger” at the end)

    I’ m unsure why the guide Howie, a former firefighter who attended the tragedy, and who now plays the pipes at funerals, is a “priest” in this poem.

    There are some lines that don’t really work as powerfully as they are designed to do, for example,

    ” Here at what can almost not

    be named because too many died, too much was

    lost or even little learned, now gathers a planned renewal of those promises and lives:”

    I think the expression ” because too many died, to much was /lost..” states the obvious and is unnecessary in a meditation.

    However, despite my reservations, the poem is carefully written and achieves a mood of reflection on horrifying events. There are fine moments of heartfelt grief, resignation and optimism, and the involvement of Howie the firefighter pipeplaying guide, is welcome.

    Thanks for sending the poem, John.

    Here’s a picture of the students we met when we went to one of Jonathan’s lectures (attached below)

    Love and best wishes to everyone.


    Sent from my iPad >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Superb! Just right! Difficult to imagine the subject being dealt with better in poetry – particularly in terms of tone and selection of detail. A courageous piece, John. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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