Most of us viewed 9/11 secondhand, through a television lens. Arlington poet Steven Ratiner had a more remote vantage point: the relative isolation of the Isles of Shoals, off New Hampshire’s coast.
Ten years later, he takes us back to the rocky, windswept island where, on that day, he found a voice to give expression to the grief welling up in all of us.
- Click to hear Steven’s story.
- Watch video of Steven reading his poem in Star Island’s Gosport Chapel.
- Poem text, provided by Steven Ratiner:
“On The Morning We Heard They’d Blown Up The World”
In an old stone chapel,
on a tiny crag of granite,
ten miles out from the continent —
this little maplewood pump organ
carved and pillared to look
like the doorway to a child’s church.
Her two feet pumping the broad pedals,
stoking the bellows, building the pressure.
Then the organist tugs out the wooden stop
(why stops? aren’t they the start,
the opening of the passageways,
the charging of the reeds?)
And her fingers plunge, again and again,
the sounds mounting, chord upon sinewy chord,
stop after stop — dulciana, diapason,
flute, baritone, forte — a barrage of invisible wings
beating the air as the Bach Prelude swells,
buffeting the whitewashed walls,
hammering the cold stone floor.
She plays until the tendons
stand like bow strings across
the backs of her hands.
And then, mid-phrase, she stops —
and the bellows fail,
and the grand paradisiacal sound
expires into silence.
Now she pulls the one stop
that’s lost its name piece
and intones a C from
four octaves deep in the organ’s well — Om! —
its overtones like blue flames
shimmering about a dying fire.
She pumps and plays
this single dire note —
and the chapel walls resonate,
as do the lungs behind our rib cage,
and the heart, that tiny storm-struck island,
adrift in its bitter sea —
the wave carrying beyond us
toward home, that darkened shore.
And when it feels
there is no peace left
in all creation — the organ breathes
and still, she plays more.