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. 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—and the legacy of state terrorism that runs deep in our own history … from genocide and slavery to military incursions, foreign policy, trade deals, and corporate exploitation. We fool ourselves if we think that military retaliation—or anything else less than justice can promise us peace. ~drw 9/11/2001
9/11/2020: Although the pain of this moment remains seared in our memories—stamped into the very shape of our lives henceforth—so little suggests that we have even begun the inward turn that is the first step toward repentance and renewal.
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.
drw – 09.11.01
Here is the text of Emma Lazarus’ (1849-1887) poem:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset-gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin-cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.