Tag Archives: poem

Twenty Years After 9-11

I’ve never posted this poem here, but today seems an appropriate day. I wrote it when my brother Keith was serving as a civilian contractor, driving trucks in Iraq, and he told me they weren’t allowed to stop when people ran in the road because of the threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Please note that what happens to the trucker in the poem is something that I imagined, not that my brother experienced. Keith died last December of COVID-19, so now for me personally, this poem relates to two of the great tragedies in our country’s recent history.

Fatal Impacts

I. The Fireman

He never knows what wakes him—

the click of the furnace,

the dull scrape of a snowplow in the street,

his wife’s soft sigh—

but once awakened, he hears explosions,

the loud percussive impact of a body hitting street,

bursting in a wet and heavy instant

like a monstrous water balloon

or a dropped melon.

Like a repeating loop of newsreel,

he sees them jump from the towering pyre

and try to keep on running,

arms pumping, legs striding through the smoky sky

as they plummet to eternity.

And he who could not save them,

nor the comrades lost in the Twin Towers’ fall,

keeps faith by living with the burden of memory—

the smell of burning flesh and fuel

the acrid taste of powdered concrete—

and waits for it to crush him

so he can join the others.

II. The Trucker

The snores are loud in a tent of 40 men,

shaking him from sleep

just as the roar of jet engines

must have vibrated the tower windows

right before the impact.

Eighteen hours he drove that day,

hauling steak, detergent, and stacks of mail

to an army base near Fallujah.

As he returned,

a barefoot boy in dirty clothes,

scrambled over the gravel shoulder

and onto the single-lane highway.

The boy held out his hands before him

in the universal gesture for “Stop”

and squeezed shut his eyes.

Following orders,

the convoy neither slowed nor turned

but drove straight forward to avoid ambush.

His was the truck that hit the slender body,

the initial thud of impact

followed by a bump as he ran over a yielding mass,

each set of wheels encountering less and less of a barrier.

Now he lies on his cot, trying not to shudder,

and tells himself the boy would have grown to be a terrorist,

so that killing him was like squashing a baby scorpion.

Above the snores of his tent mates,

comes the high-pitched hum of an overworked heater.

And hearing its whine, he imagines

that somewhere in the desert,

a brother or uncle or cousin

wails over a broken body

and vows jihad.

Copyright: Ruth Hull Chatlien. May not be reprinted or published without the author’s written permission.

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March Haiku

As I was driving back from an appointment yesterday, I saw something which made me write this haiku:

Small clumps of late snow
fall from outstretched tree branches
like drifting petals.

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Runoff (a poem)

Today’s weather makes it possible for me to post this poem from a few years past because it looks forward to spring.

 

Runoff

Last snowcover

outside my window,

once mounded smooth

as new-spun meringue

and clean as a carton

of unscooped ice cream,

now grainy and brittle

and friable beneath my feet.

It’s melting, melting.

The water flows across

still-hard ground,

and escapes into city sewers,

but in my mind,

I hear the rush of rivers

splashing, foaming,

racing me toward springdom.

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The Long Shadow

Once, in a barren strip of land
between highway and train tracks,
a groundhog’s head
popped up from his hole
to survey his rodent kingdom.
He caught my eye as I waited there
for the stoplight to turn green.
Twenty years on, I rarely pass
that still-empty patch of dusty ground
without recalling his grizzled face,
wondering how long he survived
in such a desolate place,
and wishing I could have told him
he left tracks upon my soul.

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Tuesday (a poem)

I was looking through a poetry file for something else this morning when I came across this: a poem I wrote during the early days of dating the man I would eventually marry. I’d forgotten about this one. Now, after having been married to Michael for nearly 24 years, I can barely remember ever feeling so insecure about our relationship. For some reason, this sweet relic of our past really cheered me up.

Tuesday

When I come back from lunch
(where I’ve smiled and talked of you)
I rest my hand upon the telephone
wondering, as I do each week,
if librarians ever take flirtatious phone calls.
Or would it make you blush before an ancient
white-haired woman who needs your help deciding
between Jane Eyre and Ben Hur?
By Tuesday I no longer feel
your warming arms around me—
four more days to crawl through
before you hold me once again.
I’d only have to call you,
hear your voice across the wire,
for the memory of your kisses to return,
but I will not dial
for fear of a white-hair woman.

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Time Shift

Wrote my first poem of 2014 this morning:

Time Shift

Since the moment I learned that
an enemy agent had infiltrated my breast
and would need to be dislodged
with an assassin’s knife,
my life has been filled with
strategy sessions and
commando campaigns
controlled by specialized generals,
rather than myself.
Accustomed as I am
to storing my hours in a measuring cup
and doling them out meticulously
according to the red lines on the side,
I now see my days run away from me
like carelessly spilled water
escaping through the nearest crack.

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