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9/11: The Alphabet of the Dead - Reading of the Names

Sep 11, 2013 | Updated Nov 11, 2013

A Meditation Poem Written on the First Anniversary, 2002, September 11

And the wind rose to kiss their lips and the dust rose and whirled around them and

touched their shoulders and brushed their cheeks. And the wind swirled to stroke their

foreheads and wipe their tears.

And they walked into the open-air mausoleum, and the names

read became a poem, the names became a chant and the names became prayer.

And the dust blew in their eyes and the dust blew into their mouths and dust blew onto

their tongues and into the crevices of ears and spoke like no speech could ever speak.

And a circle of honor was set, a ring, in the center of the open grave, like a hole

in the earth, like a place of resurrection, like an empty circus ring.

And from a distance, from the view of birds and gods, a living wreath was formed,

surrounding the ring with those who mourned for those who died.

All the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, children and daughters, sons and cousins,

aunts and uncles, and the couples and strangers, hand and hand, descending.

And there were dogs, and cats, and birds, the animals, the loyal pets who waited

and waited and waited and died waiting. And all the names, all ages, all sexes,

all religions, all strata, from many countries, from many states, from all boroughs,

all people, a family of strangers. The dust of angels, of unsuspecting soldiers.

It is painful to listen to the list of names, numbing to listen to the names, necessary

to listen to the list of names. The names become a poem, the names become

prayer. And what have we learned from this beyond that men can weep out loud

in public and embrace each other in grief and that race means nothing?

Beyond that people will still talk on phones in the street, even while the alphabet of the

dead is read aloud? Beyond that we must live for today but plan for tomorrow? In this pit

all the living wear the same face, lips tight with corners down, squinting between tears.

The living gather earth and dust into plastic bottles, what little they can take home.

Dust of angels now angels in a bottle, genies in bottles, wishes never to come true.

Some pick up pebbles, perhaps pieces of bone. Small relics in this rubble, what little they

can take home. And every year the list of surnames with different faces scroll down

my TV screen, to tell me we are one. That all that is left is dust tells us we are one.

That we all cringe with dust in our eyes tells us

we are one on this beach, desert, tightrope, consecrated ground.

Mary Crescenzo