Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To Speak of Heroes

'our mind is a virgin forest of killed friends.
And if I talk to you with fairy tales and parables
it is because you listen to it more sweetly, and you can't talk of horror because it's alive

because it doesn't speak and moves
it drips the day, it drips on sleep
like a pain reminding of evils.

To speak of heroes to speak of heroes: Michalis
who left with open wounds from hospital
may have talked of heroes when, that night
he was dragging his foot in the blacked-out city,
was screaming feeling our pain 'in the dark
we go, in the dark we move...'
Heroes move in the dark.

G. Seferis, Teleftaios Stathmos

Nobel Prize Laureate Georgios Seferis wrote this poem about the horror of war and those heroes that die in its wake. I read it for the first time in my Mediterranean Studies class in college and was immediately taken with it the way you can be sometimes taken by a fast-moving train zooming by so quickly that if you blinked you could have missed it. The way it tears through your consciousness, ripping up the rotted old floorboards of your mind clearing the clutter, afterward leaving your thoughts to settle dumbly like meandering specks of dust. What was I thinking before? It doesn't matter and somehow there is only a feeling in the chest, a moment of stillness and reverance and oneness. The moment in which you are sitting on the painted duck-green bench becomes illuminated; you are suddenly aware of your thighs on the wood, the feel of your feet on the uneven cobblestone, the sun casting iridescent flecks of auburn in the hair of the man sitting beside you who moments before was just tapping away at his cell phone. You now sit - the two of you - breathy and alive and aware looking into eachother's eyes, brushing the hair from your mouth and acknowledging the other in a bowl of silence.

That's the way I felt when I read this poem and the way I felt the morning of September 11th. And didn't everyone? Doesn't everyone remember exactly where they were, in place and time and space, the moment they first heard or first saw? I was in 8th grade in my first class of the morning, Language Arts, sitting in the front row near the door. Our teacher Mrs. Riley welcomed us with a somber look and without saying anything turned on the TV mounted in the upper right hand corner of the room. The teacher, the fourteen or so other girls in my class and I watched as the punctured towers released billowing clouds of black-grey smoke. I remember thinking, of all things, that I had never seen so much smoke in my whole life. I kept clinging to the color grey, amazed by its ability to be one color but so many colors all at once. I noticed the differences in the grey of the clouds, of the smoke, of the towers, of the tie of the newscaster. I remember feeling confused, stunned, suddenly uprooted. I don't think I realized at the time that the images meant death, that people had died or were actively dying as I sat there watching in my plaid kilt and new school sneakers. I don't think I knew people were still in the buildings, that the buildings were going to collapse, that people were diving from the buildings, calling their wives and husbands for the last times, that firefighters were trudging up 90 flights of stairs to a black death. All this I didn't know or couldn't fully grasp until college when I took a Sociology of Disaster course where we studied the logistics of what had happened inside of the buildings that day. That people in building #2 were told to stay where they were because it was an "isolated incident," that the people who didn't listen to the announcement and left were walking in black stairwells, stairwells that kept ending and leaving them off at different floors to find another stairwell, grasping in the dark. As the poem notes, to imagine or to even speak of the horror of that day for those involved seems futile.

" and you can't talk of horror because it's alive

because it doesn't speak and moves
it drips the day, it drips on sleep
like a pain reminding of evils.

To speak of heroes to speak of heroes... "

thank you.

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