Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know
Within the smoke their ash revolves as snow,
To settle on our skin as fading stars
Dissolve into pure dust at break of day.
At dawn a distant shudder in the earth
Disclosed the fold of fire into steel,
The rumbles not of crossings underground
But screams from out of flowers built from flame.
We stood upon the Heights like men of straw
Transfixed by flames that started in the sky,
And watched them plunging down in death's ballet
To land among those dying deep below.
By noon the band of smoke leaned low
Upon the harbor's skin like some dark shawl,
A pall of smoke that in its curdled crawl
Kept reaching to extend its fatal fall.
The harp strung bridge held up ten thousand souls
Who'd screaming run beneath the paws of death,
As dusted ghosts that lived but were not sure
They lived in light or only in reprieve.
They'd writhed and spun within a storm of smoke
And stumbled out to light and clearer air,
To find upon the river's further shore
That sanctuary is not savored but secured.
The sirens scraped the sky and jets carved arcs
Within a heaven empty of all hope,
And marked its epicenter with one streak
Of black on polished bone where silver stood.
By evening all their ash had settled so
That on the leaves outside my window glowed
Their souls in small bright stars until the rain
Cleaned all that could not be clean again.
We breathed the smoke that bent and crept and crawled.
We learned to hate the smoke that lingered so.
We knew that blood could only answer blood,
And so we yearned to go and not to go.
That last, lost summer faded into ash
Their faces faded as endless autumn flowed
Through chill and heat into the winter sea
Where warships prowled in search of stones.
Within the city, shrines were our resolve.
We placed them where we stood or where they lay.
Upon our bricks and stones their faces loomed
To gaze at us from times beyond repeal.
In time, their ash and smoke became the shapes
Of stories told at dinner, found in books,
Or in the comments made by magazines
For whom the larger issues were of worth.
At first their faces faded with the rains,
The little altars thick with wax were scraped,
But now beneath clear plastic they endure
To remind those passing that we've not escaped.
Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know.
Gerard Van der Leun