Poets Walk: "swirls of dust"

Poets Walk: "swirls of dust"

Location on Poets Walk Map: 22


Survivors—Found by Joan Murray


We thought that they were gone--

we rarely saw them on our screens--

those everyday Americans

with work-a-day 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.


"Survivors — Found" aired on NPR's Morning Edition a few days after 9/11 and is included in the anthology "Poems to Live by in Uncertain Times," edited by Joan Murray and published by Beacon Press on 11/11/2001, two months after the attack.