We thought that they were gone— we rarely saw them on our screens— those everyday Americans with workaday routines, and the heroes standing ready— not glamorous enough— on days without a tragedy, we clicked—and turned them off. We only saw the cynics— the dropouts, show-offs, snobs— the right- and left-wing critics: we saw that they were us. But with the wounds of Tuesday when the smoke began to clear, we rubbed away our stony gaze— and watched them reappear: the waitress in the tower, the broker reading mail, a pair of window washers, filling up a final pail, the husband’s last “I love you” from the last seat of a plane, the tourist taking in a view no one would see again, the fireman, his eyes ablaze as he climbed the swaying stairs— he knew someone might still be saved. We wondered who it was. We glimpsed them through the rubble: the ones who lost their lives, the heroes’ double burials, the ones now “left behind,” the ones who rolled a sleeve up, the ones in scrubs and masks, the ones who lifted buckets filled with stone and grief and ash: some spoke a different language— still no one missed a phrase; the soot had softened every face of every shade and age— “the greatest generation”?— we wondered where they’d gone— they hadn’t left directions how to find our nation-home: for thirty years we saw few signs, but now in swirls of dust, they were alive—they had survived— we saw that they were us.
From Poems to Live By by Joan Murray. Copyright © 2001 by Joan Murray. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston. All rights reserved.