Towers of Light
©Michael S. Cherney
(Click on image for larger version.)

"Breathe in pain.
Then try to breathe out light.
Use what seems like poison as medicine.
Use suffering, as the path to compassion."


We are married thirty-five years today.
To celebrate, I bring pastries to work.
Autumn morning sun, still lush with summer, 
swells through the kitchen window 
and begins to melt the chocolate.
Well-wishers surround me, and I am astonished that life
has given me so much.  Then someone comes in to ask
if we know about the towers. 

It is hard to remember
the rest of the day.
In the evening, we go to dinner,
drink sangria, but grief
has come to the table
and it has an appetite.

Breathe in the pain,
then try to breathe out light.."

Taking in the pain is necessary.
Everywhere it billows smoke
that blackens air, clogs lungs,
rising through many days.

Breathing out light is harder.
I envision light,  but it bursts into clouds of flame.
Steel melts, towers fall again.

The teacher says: "Imagine
what is hot  then breathe it in."
In the street,  people were covered
with ashes of burnt papers, blown glass, packages.
Worlds burned.

    "Remember what is cool
    and refreshing,
    then exhale."

Cool is what I long  for
Cool is what I need,
Does this burning end tomorrow
or only yesterday?

4 .         (September 11, 1966)

        We are unformed when we marry.
        We do not yet know what we do not know.
        High above Central Park,
        everything is waiting for us while we
        embrace, then you break the wineglass.

        Sometimes glass breaks joyfully,
        the bottle of champagne on a new boat,
        the wedding glass
        beneath your shoe.
        I want to save each piece.


 Breathe in.

Fine china breaks into jagged fragments,
razor-like shards, and white powder.
Most patterns can be refilled,
but these steel girders, these charred bones
forge new patterns in broken spaces.

Breathe out. 
Every day the dead are buried in many languages.
And people circle the site
with photos of the missing.
Have you seen, have you heard anything of...?

Grief washes out colors.
Brilliant September days recede behind
walls of smoke, curtains of toxic ash.

6       (September 11, 1973)

        We are the parents of one radiant little girl.
        Today, on our seventh anniversary,
        I give birth to another.
        We are astonished that life
        has given us so much.
        The autumn sun shines
        pink-gold through our window.
        it feels safe to move forward into time.


Shock devours tastes.  Coffee seems bitter,
bread coarse. What should be sweet is sickening.
What should be salty burns the tongue.

Friends want  to gather, share food.
The idea seems frivolous,
but we gather and break
the still-warm bread.
Grieving together
we are  heavier and also lighter.
After this, I can breathe more deeply.

The city is broken.
In our shared memories
the Towers stand
like ghost limbs
feeling pain
even after they are severed.

Early winter sky
is sharp with crystals of loss.
Workers breathe remnants
of glass and steel, wood and bone.
Later their lungs hurt,
like their hearts.

Everywhere we breath in fear.
At Lincoln Center, the  National Guard
patrols the opera house.
How do we breathe out music.

 Our bodies alone
remember what to do.
We return to familiar tasks,
fueled by habit.

We say we are healing
but our children
have uneasy dreams
and bring terrifying pictures
home from school.

In the spring, some children
go to Camp Grief-Busters
Their mothers and fathers 
have not come home.
The children craft figures from balloons and cardboard,
Buttons for eyes.  Grief Monsters.

Not all grief has a face. The teacher says:
"Breath in suffering.  Give it a texture
a temperature,a weight.

Then breath out."


Winter brings little snow
spring brings little rain
by August the soil is parched.

Gardens fight to blossom.
Some plants are lost
but others bloom  purple
and yellow.

The earth goes on
though under the surface, 
some roots suffer.

Architects draw plans for a memorial.
People are unhappy.
Too commercial, too high,
too low, too small, too cold.
There is no design
that looks like what we feel.

11.  (September 2002)

And soon now comes the anniversary.
I  want to celebrate
on a different day

You say no,
"A day so much was given."

But now a day so much was taken away.

We are still breathing in pain,
and trying to learn how  to breath out light.

It is so hard.
The teacher says:

Gail Golden

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