I listened with growing dis-ease at the media chatter, the public glee, and the President’s words tonight as we anticipated, announced and applauded the death of Osama bin Laden, pretending that somehow this meant that justice “at last” had been done.
I posted this as my Facebook status within minutes after Obama’s words:
Sad. Confused. Embarrassed. Obama’s words are such a denial of truth and a distortion of history. That we gloat and celebrate so publicly only evidences our readiness to persevere in our patriotic lies about our national “innocence.” I have NO love for Al-Qaida, but we fool ourselves if we think our national aspirations, our way of life, our globalized interests, do not drip with at least as much innocent blood.
And now I will grimly reprise below the poem I wrote at 5:14 p.m. on September 11, 2001, including the introduction I penned that same afternoon:
Sometimes the uncomfortable task of the poet is to seize our eyes in a moment when they are already wrenched by horror and force us to look more deeply into the terror before we avert our gaze. In this poem I echo—and invert—many images in Emma Lazarus’ famous poem about the Statue of Liberty. I was moved to write it as I watched the eerie picture of Lady Liberty keeping vigil in the harbor while the World Trade Center burned in the background. Please understand: this is not a defense of terrorism. It is a plea that we recognize terrorism as the inevitable fruit of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the power-hungry. We fool ourselves if we think that military retaliation—or anything else less than justice can promise us peace.
Lady Liberty in the Foreground
This mighty woman with her torch stands placidly bereft
Her hem wave-washed beneath bright skies
above calm water-harbored lies
while smoky wisps of violent truth swell billows to her left.
She lifts her lamp in silent shame, its welcome long outworn
to huddled masses, tired, poor
whose breath withers on distant shore
in labor for our ill-won wealth, their liberty stillborn.
Our sea-washed sunrose-gates once twinned, with storied pomp around
our innocents now tempest-tost
lives unnumbered ever lost
in towers traded now for wretched refuse on the ground.
From horrored hearts—their anguish true, is naught but vengeance loosed?
Dare she invite us to repent
of exiled lives too cheaply spent,
her flame a bloodied beacon-hand for woes come home to roost.