Poet's Choice: 'September, 2001' by Valerie Martínez

By Valerie Martínez
Sunday, September 13, 2009

This poem was actually written in the first week of September, before 9/11 and after a particularly terrible spring and summer of suicide bombings in Israel. My anger is apparent. I had no idea what was lying in wait.

What might the afterworld be like for those who take so many lives on their way out? What of those paradisal virgins that some bombers believe wait for them upon their martyrdom? It is with some pause that I share this poem, written in a state that could wreck any work of art. And yet I come back to it, time after time, as I grapple with the political and religious violence now characteristic of the 21st century.

Wallace Stevens, in his lecture "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words" (1941), discusses the "plea" of poetry and art that enacts "a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality." Stevens considered this a noble act. I wonder how noble, however, if poetry remains primarily private or within the limits of fewer and fewer readers. Good poetry in the public arena, I believe, moves it from the realm of the palliative (in the best sense of the word) to the possibility of the proactive. This is not the only thing that poetry does or should do, but I'm so very glad it sometimes does.

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September, 2001

Who scatters the bones, bus stop, sun.

Torso wrapped tight. Trigger button.

How many. Heavy. Much.


You with the dark hair. You

with the conviction. You

with your paradisal maidens.


Come crashing in.





There is no music, no goblets

no table of golden loaves.

If I am virgin, it matters not.

Your eyes are disparate -- knuckles, arms, windows --

blown apart.


Now, find your hands

and there is one task:



This is how the dead work.


BECAUSE you have scattered

flesh, marrow, breath,

writ the bloody writ.


THUS you'll live every specific

agony. Your own. Each one.

Family. Every friend.

It goes on.


NOW gather it.

Make it whole again.


Don't ask how.


Here you go, wandering:

shrapnel, earlobes,

inky red-blue, bits of bone.


Everywhere. Wherever.


What? No light?

(and I am so comely)

Messy? Cold?


What comes together


sparks, makes heat,

sumptuous, whole

and lovely,


glows and glows.

(From "World to World," by Valerie Martínez, University of Arizona Press, 2004.)

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