Poet's Choice: 'November 11 -- 2004' by Kim Addonizio

By Kim Addonizio
Sunday, November 15, 2009

The first time I visited The Wall, the Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington, I was overwhelmed by the power of all those names, each name a life lost. But each name also a life honored and remembered. I think that's one impulse of poetry: to name what passes, trying to hold it in our hearts a little longer.

The opening line of "November 11" came into my head on Veterans Day in 2004 complete with that grandiose "O" and exclamation point. I was driving to the gym, thinking what I have often thought: "Wow, it's all creation and destruction at the same time, every moment." As I was working on the poem and started naming, I found I didn't want to stop. I wanted to fix those people in memory. But I soon saw what an impossible task that was; there were -- are -- too many dead. That's partly what the poem is about. The rain is for me the astonishing dailiness of all this death, so much of it from war and violence.

I used some Iraqi women's names because that's what I thought about, the women there who were dying and losing their loved ones. And the four American soldiers were listed in the San Francisco Chronicle that day, part of the ongoing body count. The exclamation points are meant to be both sincere and ironic, just as the rain becomes both the beauty of being alive and the continuation of all of our forms of ignorance.

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NOVEMBER 11 -- 2004

O everyone's dead and the rain today is marvelous!

I drive to the gym, the streets are slick,

everyone's using their wipers, people are walking

with their shoulders hunched, wearing hoods

or holding up umbrellas, of course, of course,

it's all to be expected -- fantastic!

My mother's friend Annie, her funeral's today!

The writer Iris Chang, she just shot herself!

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