THE BONES OF SEPTEMBER

by Mitchel Cohen, from The Permanent Carnival

 

Two vast and trunkless legs of steel

Like silent Pharaohs over Wall Street stood

Scraping the vast canvas of immortality

How many died erecting those towers:

Welders of iron, exoskeletal beams?

Manhattan is missing her two front teeth

Can you help me find them?

 

What were their thoughts on that morning’s long fall?

Beat, you wings! Just another few breaths!

Millions of fingers of Flesh, of Memory —

Sift and sift that ancient dust

 

Manhattan is missing her two front teeth

Help me find them!

 

Now, only a torn, disfigured pedestal remains

And on it these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.*

 

Autumn, impervious,

Mocking our imperial pretense,

Swirls her bluest skirt, whips her hips,

Casts the bones of September

Like I-Ching sticks over Baghdad

Throwing sunsets to die for.

                        *Stanza by Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

BROOKLYN BENEATH THE TOXIC PLUME

by Mitchel Cohen, from The Permanent Carnival

Greetings from Brooklyn, this little corner of the world.

The bones of September have barely been exhumed and new crises are already punching through the hum-drum drop­pings of everyday life. Flying in an airplane; attending antiwar protests; wearing darker skin; praying to an unsanctioned God facing the wrong direction; opening a letter ̶— all are filled with trepidation.

The anxiousness is pervasive, all-too-real. As Ginsberg once wrote: We hug and kiss the United States under our bed­sheets, the United States that coughs all night and won’t let us sleep.

There is a sense, not fully articulated, that at least some of the hysteria is being orchestrated, our emotions are manipulated and somewhere deep down a noisy lit­tle ulcer gnaws that this all may have something to do with Ter­rorism with a capital T, yes, but it also has something to do with Oil, with Pipeline, with Empire. Aladdin’s lamps are exploding all at once, and Papa Bush’s genetically engineered genies sweep down our chimneys at night when we are sleeping, jangling keys to apocalyptic dungeons lined with TV screens, we don’t know why and we don’t have time to think about it as the next crisis is announced and is upon us as earlier ones recede, wave after wave from sea to shining sea.

We are exhorted by mouths white with foam: Support America: Go shopping, wave flags (made in sweat­shops in China), cheer­ing (and, for some, pleading: Don’t hit me, I’m Ameri­can too, not one of THEM), never breaking off, allowing themselves to think about who is stampeding us into returning to routines we des­pised but which we now romanticize as “the good old days.”

Peace is not a noun meaning the absence of war; it is a verb: To Peace. To live as though the oneness is real (despite all the doubters, despite one’s own doubts!). To live as though we still have rights. To understand that ALL soil is sacred even as the gaping anthraxial wound swallows up Manhattan’s two front teeth and we wait for some tooth fairy to exchange them for quarters left under the pillow, this Autumn of abandoned child­hoods.

How is it that the death count keeps shrinking at Ground Zero — the Washington Post has exhaustive­ly tallied it at one-third of what the Mayor had been claim­ing ̶— and is get­ting higher at some­one else’s Ground Zero other side of the world?

Is there a huge transfer of bodies through the dark channels of earth, some insane transmigration of souls from the spiritual desert of Wall Street to Afghanistan’s flat earthly sands?

Beyond right and wrong,

beyond the political struggle to stop the bombardment,

beyond this and that, the harrowing dig through centuries of rubble to pull out real human lives;

beyond the tarpits of civilization, we charge through life like wounded Tyrannosaurs fired up by avenging Generals named Electric and Dynamic, Lockheed and Boeing and Unocal, Bechtel and Halliburton and Carlyle, merchants of both sides’ instru­ments, their awful machinery of holocausts, oblivious, sitting at the edge of world war three, or four, or five, about to extinct ourselves in Ginsberg’s hydrogen jukebox in a place called Paki­stan, called India ̶— Whose God is stronger? Which one do we trust the most — the one with the accurate Timex watch delivering videos at just the right moment, cell phone, dialysis machine and patch over one-eye slaughtering the lambs or the accountant book­keeper of capital with knotted white hair whose only prophet is profit, measuring out abysmal teaspoons of what he calls justice for every abyss full of his believers’ tortured souls?

Said Camus: I wish I could love my country and still love Justice.

We live in my country Tisofthee somewhere amidst the stars. Bush’s stolen election has kicked the whole world out of whack, thrown us into a parallel universe that wasn’t supposed to be, and everything that has trans­pired since ̶— the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, the stolen dreams of real democracy ̶— pile jumbled on the ocean floor as the earth heats up, the seas rise around us, and, like the World Trade Center, swallow us whole.

Written in early October, 2001

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