Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross

Over at nthposition is a web page displayed to both commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but also to raise money for the Red Cross: Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on. On it, is a link to “an anthology of poems on the Twin Towers atrocity and its consequences,” which “nearly 90 poets” contributed to:

Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross (pdf)

Here are a couple notes from that page:

Enjoy Babylon Burning, then please give something to the Red Cross.

Please feel free to host it on your site, or email it to friends and colleagues and ask them to consider donating. Like nthposition’s other anthologies, it’s copyleft, so pass it on, spread the word and raise some money . . .

The purpose of this blog post is to both get behind this good cause, and support the terrific poetic effort involved. I will begin by displaying the press release just below. Following that, is a selection of 19 poems from the anthology, the 19 which rose to be poems, above the 70 others, which came across as political speeches (sometimes rousing), sentiments shared (sometimes touching or angering), or unfulfilled tropes or near-poems otherwise unfinished or fallen short.

But this is to be expected in such an anthology, even one so well worth reading. For the most part, the nearly 90 poets who tried their hands at the “Babylon Burning” tie-in with the 9/11 tragedy, are quite good within their elements, and I have provided hyperlinks to some of their web pages and blogs.

Asking a poet, or a poet asking herself, to write about devastation or politics, is like asking a right-handed batter to get up as a lefty. Good poets will miss the pitch. It is like having had major-league and semi-pro ballplayers together for a summer benefit, where they all had to get up to bat from the opposite side. Some home runs were hit, naturally talented as they are. And it was all good to see.

Because it is a benefit for the Red Cross, I have selected some of this year’s photos from this collection:

Red Cross Red Crescent: Photo Gallery

The Red Cross photographs alternate below with the 19 poems in alphabetical order by poet.


This is the press release from nthposition, with contributors, notes, and contacts. Links into contributor’s blogs and web sites are suppled.

Remembering the desperate on 9/11 (pdf)

For immediate release

Nearly 90 poets from around the world have contributed to Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross: 9/11 five years on, an anthology of poems on the Twin Towers atrocity and its consequences. But they aim for more than pious hand-wringing: the anthology will be free, but there will be a request to donate to the Red Cross.

nthposition, the site behind the anthology, wants to maximise the money raised by listing it on iTunes as a PDF. Though sales of poetry books are flat, online poetry is booming–the internet is “more fluid, flexible, and much more accommodating”, as Marjorie Perloff said recently.

Many of the poets involved contributed to 100 Poets against the War, which the London Times said gave protest poetry “a new lease of life”. The first edition went online in January 2003, a week after the idea was floated. Two further online editions and a print edition followed. Readers were encouraged to host the PDF on their sites or forward it to friends, and tens of thousands of copies were downloaded from nthposition alone.

Val Stevenson, nthposition editor, said: “The success of 100 poets blew us away, but we’re being more ambitious this time. It’s hard to think of an organisation that’s doing more to help the desperately needy than Red Cross.”

Todd Swift, the poetry editor, agreed: “Auden said that ‘poetry makes nothing happen‘, but we think it can, and we’d like to prove it.”

Like 100 Poets, Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross will rely on readers to spread the word–the site is completely unfunded. A print-on-demand paperback of the anthology will also be available from, with all profits going to the Red Cross.

Contributors to Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross are:

Ros Barber
Jim Bennett
Rachel Bentham
Charles Bernstein
bill bissett
Yvonne Blomer
Stephanie Bolster
Jenna Butler
Jason Camlot
J R Carpenter
Jared Carter
Patrick Chapman
Sampurna Chattarji
Maxine Chernoff
Tom Chivers
Alfred Corn
Tim Cumming
Margot Douaihy
Ken Edwards
Adam Elgar
Elaine Feinstein
Peter Finch
Philip Fried
Leah Fritz
Richard Garcia
Sandra M Gilbert
Nathan Hamilton
Richard Harrison
Kevin Higgins
Will Holloway
Bob Holman
Paul Hoover
Ranjit Hoskote
Ray Hsu
Halvard Johnson
Chris Jones
Jill Jones
Kavita Joshi
Jonathan Kaplansky
Wednesday Kennedy
Sonnet L’Abbé
Kasandra Larsen
Tony Lewis-Jones
Dave Lordan
Alexis Lykiard
Jeffrey Mackie
Mike Marqusee
Chris McCabe
Nigel McLoughlin
Pauline Michel
Peter Middleton
Adrian Mitchell
John Mole
David Morley
George Murray
Alistair Noon
D Nurkse
John Oughton
Ruth Padel
Richard Peabody
Tom Phillips
David Prater
Lisa Pasold
Victoria Ramsay
Harold Rhenisch
Noel Rooney
Joe Ross
Myra Schneider
Robert Sheppard
Zaid Shlah
Henry Shukman
Penelope Shuttle
John Siddique
Goran Simic
Hal Sirowitz
Heather Grace Stewart
Andrew Steinmetz
John Stiles
William E Stobb
jordan stone
Sean Street
Joel Tan
Nathaniel Tarn
Mark Terrill
Helên Thomas
Vincent Tinguely
Rodrigo Toscano
John Tranter
John Welch

All gave their work for free. Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross is available from


nthposition was shortlisted for the 2002 European Online Journalism Awards, nominated for a People’s Voice award in the 2003 Webbys, and won a Readers’ Poll award in the 2004 Utne Independent Press Awards. In 2005, the site was selected as Webby Worthy, and in 2006 it was archived into the British Library’s permanent collection. More from the ‘About us‘ page. Val Stevenson, nthposition’s editor, is a reviews editor and writer. Todd Swift, Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross‘s editor, writes, edits and teaches poetry.


Till 7 September, Val Stevenson:
After 8 September, Todd Swift:


Pakistan earthquake
February 2006

Salvaging whatever remains from the rubble.


by Yvonne Blomer

Nebuchadnezzar among the ruins of Babylon


If you could anchor yourself
to that sharp-winged silhouette
blanking out the sun.
If the halo of history could encircle
the ruins of sky, now so full of holes,
and the ancient’s graves–
footprints of Kings that fill in–
turquoise lives, veins
bluing, bleeding out.


A coarse cry rings, a portent: in the sky
the machines’ blades cut
air, their shape the filigree that was your crown; but now
humanity holds the rock that shatters
your clay feet. Man was made from dirt,
and to dirt returns what he made:
history in the face of this eager call;
the peregrine’s profile
shadowing what has already come.


Tungurahua volcano eruption
August 2006

Since the Tungurahua Volcano erupted on 16 August,
large clouds of ash and molten rock have covered hundreds
of communities in Ecuador. Ecuadorian Red Cross volunteers
have carried out search and rescue operations and provided
first aid and psychosocial support to around 2,000 families.


by Jenna Butler

What the earth remembers

Something of the bumblebee;
those improbable metal wings.
Not intent but aftermath;
corona of dust below the sky’s level gaze .
What is this but a new way of speaking.
Vengeance is also learned.
An empty copse. Silence devoid of birds.
So too the shuttered market stalls.
Not about breath but how it catches .
Wind alighting, moving on.


Sahel food crisis
February 2006

A child is weighed to check for malnutrition at a
mobile clinic at the Red Cross camp in Tahoua, Niger.


by Jason Camlot

Mouse memorial

I live with mice inside the monument of mice.
They’ve lived here an eternity,
and I’ve been here such a long time.
The mice are proud and one day I will be a mouse, too–
small, blind and unimportant, like these mice.
I admire their irreverent creeping, timid squeaks, tiny ebony
nests, where their young lie like peanuts. I admire
their precious breath and fast-beating hearts.
As human silos rise and fall
this scuttling monument lives on below,
passed on from mouse parent to mouse child.
The memorial itself is in the fragile bones
of those mice who are still alive.
My big, awkward bones are my own great impediment
to becoming memorial.
Still, already I am unimportant, and I am blind.
Is it hubris to hope one day I will be small?


Ethiopia drought
May 2006

Livelihoods depend on the fertility of the soil and the health of the
livestock, both of which have been seriously compromised. The recent
rainy seasons were either too little, too late or simply too erratic.


by Patrick Chapman

American singularity


The room is blue and empty and a perfect cube.
The blue is the colour of the sky
In late May over Denver.
There is no door.

This is what the room has become
Now that it is empty.

It was emptied of all sound.
It was emptied of all light.
It was emptied of all life.

Then the door was removed.

Only then did the room become
The particular shade of blue
That they use when constructing these places:

An infinite blue
Where distance and depth,
Time and presence,
Can not be measured.

This is how the room
Erased the space
That used to be there.

Whatever it was is lost to us now.


The world has many such rooms.
No-one knows how many and where they are.
No-one knows how the rooms are illuminated.

Some say that the world itself
Will become such a room
Then it will cease to exist.

Some say that this is what they want,
The ones who build the rooms.

There will be no desert, no ice, no cities, no forests.
There will be no clouds, no lakes to mirror them,
No grass to fail in bursting them, how ever tall the blades.

There will be no-one to notice
That this is how the world is now
And not how it was.

Nobody will miss the world.
Nobody will remember it.
Nobody will be in it.


In order to create the present, you erase the past.
In order to create the future, you erase the present.
In order to create the past, you erase the future.


The blue rooms are spaces where nothing exists.
Therefore they do not exist.
Therefore the world they replaced is still there.
Therefore every thing is well.


There is a room, blue and empty, and a perfect cube.


Lebanon humanitarian crisis
August 2006

This man and his four children arrived in Beirut four days ago
from the southern village of Yatir, near the town of Bent Jbeil.
They stayed for 12 days in their village under fire before deciding
to move on. They left taking only what they could carry.


for Lina Mounzer

by Margot Douaihy


You knew just by looking that it was time,
sang to each kitten as it slid out in pink glue.
How can so many bodies fit in one belly?
We mused on the details of the birth as you
did my makeup, tried six shades before
choosing black. We need so much colour
to make black. You drew each eyelid to the
tear duct, gently. I smelled your perfume
in my hair as I dreamt

Beirut, your city.
Smoke lifted from orange-tiled markets,
hallways empty except open books. Charred
wires melted the rug, like tails of cats
burned alive. A black line traced where
fire crawled across the wall–I didn’t realise
concrete could burn. What where the old cedars
just ponds of needles, like shadows of children
hiding under a sink. I left. You stayed,
from the ship I saw you kneel in rubble.
You found a camera lens, intact, but cracked
in the middle. It cut you but you held it close.


China floods
July 2006

The photo of a woman who died in Ganzhou in Jiangxi hangs
on a memorial tree. Many men have had a tragic home-coming
from their work as migrant labourers in the cities. One
distraught man returned to his village to find he had lost
three generations of women to Typhoon Kaemi. His
grandmother, mother and wife had all been killed.


by Adam Elgar

A postcard from Camp Delta

I’m learning much, one small step at a time.
That I am Superman with Luthor’s brain.
That the world is origami, and the nation
I had thought was mine was only loaned to me.
This place has freed me from the tyranny
of diaries. I receive pet therapy, take part
in water sports, and the music suits a range
of tastes. I live like a daguerreotype,
and in those moments when the other noises
pause, I set these trembling letters free.


Indonesia earthquake
June 2006

A boy sits near the ruins of his home. He was searching
through the rubble for his school savings book.


for Michel Portal, saxophoniste, & Val Gilbert, saxophonist

by Sandra M Gilbert

Portal = portal

fluous fluent fluvial
phone go on go
thickly thirstily
on on-
stage beyond the state
of war the theater
of blood the sky
exploding over Baghdad
he smiles alive
& kicking in the beat
he lifts his left
foot &
paws the ground
the music tossing him
around until he’s
nothing but a
weed on a thundering shore
& my curly-haired
eyed grandson tries
to hold his sax like that
the pan posture
the piper posture
with a sax in-
stead of a rifle &
instead of a poem
that pleads for peace
(the hardest kind to write
because why
should anyone
have to)


Kenya food crisis
May 2006

A young girl in Elwak, Mandera District. This is one of the
most severely affected areas and many children have died as
a result of hunger or malnutrition-related complications.


by Nathan Hamilton

Take off

A clear night and the city
drops, a blazing circuit

Across a widened breach–
one more contracting light

The cabin engine rush
floods up inside, grade by grade
the windows each disclose
a face, close up beneath the ice


Maldives tsunami recovery
May 2006

This photo was taken by a Maldivian youth as part UNICEF’s
“Give Me One Minute Master Class” which in addition to providing the students with photojournalism and video skills,
also allowed children to explore their grief and loss.


by Richard Harrison

Showing off what they could do

The day after nine one one
is a silence in the sky we
haven’t heard for a century.
And the day after that day,
the planes returned. I remembered
then my father’s story of
a boy’s awe and dread in
the outcry of engines overhead
when he saw the first dirigible
the Germans propelled
into the English blue;
they were just showing off then,
showing off what they could do.


East Africa food crisis
May 2006

Driving through the Nairobi National Park, less than 10 km
from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, you soon stop counting
the dead zebras. There are not many animals around;–the
lions hide in the shade and the elephants are out of
sight, while the giraffes take leisurely walks along the
roads and dirt tracks criss-crossing the park, nibbling at
whatever looks reasonably green.


by Will Holloway

You called me: Evil Empire.
It was partly through your expertise
in name-calling that you overcame me.

I was an archipelago within a fortress.
I was a state within a prison.
I was the remote Tartar city at which the prisoners
on the Eastbound trains were unchained,
rationally, since beyond that point
there was nowhere to escape to
and the chains were sorely needed back West.

In those days the frenzy of my purges
and the torpor of my bureaucracy sometimes cancelled out,
a cellist released before interrogation
because the interrogator had himself been taken.

I taught that my victory was inevitable,
that the Slow War was my patient way
of placing the entire planet under arrest.

You won that war but the spirit of the conquered
seeps into the conqueror.
The Norman invader becomes a fastidious Englishman;
the brutal Ostrogoth, an Italian fop.

And so the 3 a.m. knock is heard again,
this time, as planned, inevitably,
across the housing estates of Western Europe.
The extraordinary renditions have just begun.
Those suspected of contacts with atrocitists
are removed by non-existent persons
to non-existent places.
Your hard-won oil is oiling the locks
at my old camps, at the Black Sites.

I am yours now.
Our great days are ahead.


The tsunami operation in Sri Lanka
Shelter programmes
September 2006

Community Development Councils will be formed to ensure
that each family is supported throughout the construction
process. Families will be able to collectively decide on the
overall development of their community. The Red Cross Red Crescent has formed a partnership with UN-HABITAT that will
deliver a comprehensive package of support to families and
communities receiving Red Cross grants. UN-HABITAT and the
Sri Lanka Red Cross Society will play a key role in developing
this people-centred approach to the rebuilding process.


by Ray Hsu


The garden.
The detached
The intruders.
The theft
of our bodies. The burning
weight. The living

The cold past
the gate.
No disaster is disappointing


Angola cholera outbreak
June 2006

This trench filled with rubbish in the Cazenga district of
Luanda shows how essential advocacy and public information
campaigns carried out by Red Cross volunteers can help
reduce the risk of further outbreaks.


by Halvard Johnson

The romance of anti-terrorism

Batteries are not included, not
included. Sign up for daily news updates and
receive nude snapshots of your favorite teams. Create life and debt,
after years of cooking turkeys. Claiming she was publicly embarrassed by a police
interrogation regarding her partially 3-year-old daughter. Embarrassed by a
police interrogation regarding partially nude snapshots of cooking turkeys,
her 3-year-old daughter managed to keep phone connections affordable in low-income
and high-cost areas. Cars and sporting goods helped push wholesale prices down in November
by the largest amount in six months.

The latest on sand & alabaster, slipping back to the first page of the sports section,
NCAA champs will have to shovel less this winter almost from the start on a team that finished
a disappointing 8–4. Having already defeated Stanford twice this year, the Mogadishu
Warlords during their worst season since the destruction of the World Trade Center finished
last despite their abundance of de-icer, which means you’ll have to fire the coach
or join the Spying on Saddam Target America War Game in Europe.

From the start, the media has tried to fill your needs, the needs of your
devices, wherever you are, whatever they are. Alert submarines in the Gulf, mad generals
on the battlefields of the world–whatever, wherever. Holy Land drug wars, that’s the ticket.
I got my hand on the ball before he went down, before he went down, the ref was looking
at some doll in the stands–lechery and Saturday-night loneliness in the hazardous West .
Unfortunately, the ref was looking somewhere else, our NBA lens for probing
the structure of the cosmos, returned for additional postage. And I
lent him my lip balm.

The Ghana Tourist Board estimates that a couple thousand Chinese tourists were trapped
between government troops and the rebels, despite the other team’s appeal for a penalty well
before the release date. Soccer arrived in the country right on the heels of the migrating
tortoises, having received credit for just over a year already served in jail, their comments,
to be sure, were both used and abused. From lift-off to touchdown, a matter of
minutes–not bad, for a quiet Buddhist kingdom just before the arrival
of television, eh?

Unfortunately, the ref didn’t see our tears. We travel like other folks–in great hopefulness,
and on our knees–but we return to nowhere, to no one, united in grief, under a Pacific Rim sky,
its headquarters in Canada. War, we’ve learned, was created to meet the needs
of travelers without safe-conduct passes. Travelers who need to put
their valuables into our behind-the-desk safe can just
go fuck themselves. And so say all of us.

And what do dictators do? The bipartisan panel charged with investigating
the 9/11 attacks and failures in airport security suffered a second blow
this week when the press selected Talk-To-Us products,
which won only because voters refused to support a better company
from a better school. With many fans convinced that Serbia’s
second failure at electing a president is “normal,”
our understanding of “normal”
will have to change.

Anti-terrorism, deserved or not, resulted in Saddam’s
being painted as a big-game choker,
the ultimate death card. Americans, meanwhile, hate the press
that blows smoke in their eyes. Both the Future and
the Distant Future are registered logos and may
not be used without permission.

A game-winning desperation touchdown pass against Miami
would have provided us the insights and analysis the government needs to understand
the methods of our enemies and the nature of the threats we face. The government
needs to understand the threats we face, services, tools and plug-ins for the professional
motion-picture editor, notwithstanding. Trees now offer instruction and services,
defoliation expertise. Click here to see how to access the service wirelessly.
Imitation of light. Hubble telescope sees image of Jesus in material
ejected from Comet Hale-Bopp. More at eleven.
Now this.


Southern Africa
August 2006

A school for orphans, in Mlomba, Malawi. There are about
100 orphans here and most of them have lost their parents
to AIDS. The Malawi Red Cross Society trains caretakers
for the school, and provides food and medicine.


“When I saw you wanted poems about the 9/11 atrocity, I thought of 9/11/ 1973 in Chile–and the mass-murder there. Murders are murders wherever, whenever. We should mourn them all, and stop them.”

by Adrian Mitchell

Hiroshima Day 2006

What are you going to tell the children, on Hiroshima Day?
We’ll show them Goya’s Disasters of War
Magnified a million times
And explain we’ll burn the enemy from shore to shore
To prevent their unknowable, unspeakable crimes
      All the children of the earth are going to shake and sway
            On Hiroshima Day.

How will you entertain the children, on Hiroshima Day?
We’ll decorate a smouldering Nothingmas Tree
With burning rattlesnakes
We’ll enhance the ruins with burst balloons
And blow out all the candles on a big black cake
      And the children will all be grey
            On Hiroshima Day.

Where will you bury the children, on Hiroshima Day?
Beijing and Baghdad, Bath and Brooklyn Heights
Will all become gigantic landfill sites
We’ll bulldoze all the kiddies underground
And hang dolls and teddy bears all around
      The craters where they used to play
            On Hiroshima Day.

How shall the children be revenged, on Hiroshima Day ?
By packs of nuclear submarines
That can blast a hundred cities into smithereens
So that flames shall rise in a great tidal wave
And the only hiding place will be in the grave
      For the Moon and the Sun will turn their faces aw ay
            On Hiroshima Day.

July 2006


February 2006

Red Cross volunteers and dog rescue teams worked for 10 days
straight to locate survivors and bodies beneath the mud and rock.


by David Morley

The ideal

    The sun, gradually
going blind behind cypresses, pines, lowers
    a red crown at the sea’s surface
and leaves it lolling on the clouds’ banners
    the while it takes to see

    this physics of light–
scattering; how wavelengths are also fronts, war,
    skied defeats, as though high kingdoms
made out of sheer light went down clashing for
    an ideal of night.


Water and sanitation
March 2006

Water is the most abundant resource in the world, yet in many
countries a litre bottle of pure safe drinking water is more
costly than its equivalent in gasoline. Most of child related deaths
throughout the world are as a result of unsafe drinking water.


by George Murray


Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch;
if only the body could catch up with the blood.
I’m always chasing this heart’s last rapid tick,

drawing near an invisible finish line
over which I can step and stop the clocks,
have a drink and settle down to make some kin.

Nice town and I’ve never seen it, nice faces
but I can’t think of how the names relate.
We win this race of confrontations,

invent promising strategies, learn to tell
better stories: wings lift shoes, a boat rows
in the clouds, the quarrel meets the apple.

Know what I forgot in the rush to here? Blood
isn’t just inside me, it is me, my brother.


January 2006

In a remote village of Ngonodnda, Malawi Red Cross youth
volunteers operate a bicycle ambulance to take patients
to the nearest clinic which is often 5 to 10 kms away.


by D Nurkse

Siege of Queribus

We built a wooden counter-castle
with the same enceinte, voutoir,
towers disappearing in fog,
and wheeled it to their ramparts:

we poured pitch on them–no more rickety ladders,
let them escalade us–and when they torched us
we honeycombed that country with tunnels:
when their walls began to settle,
they diverted the moat and flooded us.

We trundled out the great artillery,
bombards, veuglaires, serpentines,
crapaudins, culverins, ribaudquins,
but the marsh country gave under their weight,
the cannon sank into the sedge firing
and moss closed over them.

We hung their hostages, one by one,
on a high oak, though we had grown old together
and spoke the same patois, a language only we shared,
the same term for porridge, for passing cloud,
the same schismatic belief in God’s mercy,
identical tics and resentment.

On their great battlements they impaled our hostages.
Through the mist we could hardly make out the faces–
our fathers? Our lovers? How age had changed them–

then the blue sores appeared, the murraine took us,
the pox was in the castle too,
one by one the high slitted windows
went dark; in the fields we found no wheat,
no chaff; deer girdled the olive trees
and naked men nibbled the high tender twigs.

When the white flag inched up over their keep
we raised ours with blistered hands–
it was enormous and dwarfed theirs–
we rode to their portcullis on donkeys,
naked, ropes around our necks ,
they came to greet us crawling on hands and knees,

and the children who had drawn a fortress in dust
and were defending it until twilight
turned and stared at us
terrified and returned to war.


Indonesia, tsunami operation
logistical challenges continue . . .
February 2006

Many sections of road washed away by the tsunami wave
have left behind rough and rugged terrain for vehicles
to traverse. Here, a 60 km stretch of ruined roadway
makes for slow progress near Calang, south of Banda Aceh.


by Tom Phillips

Fear of flying

Every night these small-hours panics–
airliners knifing into the sea,
her whispered reassurances:
Sleep, my love, it’s only dreams–
until fear is strafing the ceiling
like searchlights, like a convoy
of hooded trucks grinding east.

Are we at war again? The papers
say nothing. Our rooms are filled
with shopping bags, bills unpaid,
traps for insomniacs, clutter.
Not one of us, it seems, has a clue.
The dawn which haunts the window
is merely a trick of the light.
The man in the doorway, smoking,
is checking his field of fire.


The tsunami operation in the Maldives
Shelter and water and sanitation programmes
August 2006

The current system of sewage outfall on Maafushi Island
in the Maldives. Thanks to a $1.2 million donation by
the Irish Red Cross for a small bore municipal sewerage
scheme and assistance from the American Red Cross in
replacing septic tanks, the sewage will be transported
away from the shore and out into the deep ocean for
dispersal, resulting in improved human and maritime health.


by Harold Rhenisch

The salmon return to the Horsefly River

As the light
falls into the leaves
of the aspens
and through them
into the ochre
and red September
the spiders
in the lilacs
after a summer of rain,

the light pours
through a man’s hair
as he plants raspberries
and pungent currants
by the lake;
through his shovel

the roots and the small
stones, the whole earth,
reach up, drinking
greedily. We know the cold,
the purple shadows, the
thin line of the dawn,
the green pack ice
of December skies,

know the light
cannot be held.
You could stand
on a mountain
in a rain of stars,
write laws
to govern
the blind body:
the young woman
unable to meet
the young man.
(They walk through desert light;
it drifts like snow;
the body cries.)

There is no need
to reach high. The light
cannot be caught
in an earthenware
bowl and brought
into the dark
where bodies move:
what is dark
is dark and we
live there–
yet hear the salmon swim
in our veins, spawn
in our fingers, bears step
out of blueberry meadows,
ants in their eyes;
feel the chill
river flow
out of mountains,
taste the frost
at night, the moon rising
on the tip of each finger.

With our hands we lift
hymnals from the pew
of the trembling aspens,
and with our hands
we lift the concrete,
the glass, the steel,
to cradle the dead
as towers fall, the stone
tablets of the law
are broken into rock.
The rivers are low;
eggs lie under gravel;
ravens tear at the red
bodies of the last
silver people,
at the end of wisdom.

To whom shall we bring
our darkness now,
to whom shall we cry
but to movement,
the curl of water
around a stone,
hair over the nape of a neck,
body against body,
and say we are blind,

lest we set the grasses
on fire, gather the black birds
in a hand that once sowed
wheat in hard upland soil
as almonds bloomed
and wind and light
rustled over freshly
turned furrows,

and cast them
in the eyes of children,
who eat desert soil
for nourishment?
They know enough dark now:
the stars that lie scattered ,
smashed on the base
of night before the world
was born, the god
who is an imposter,
the breath taken, given,
with no other sky–
what is shared
and greedily

Blind among the ochre
grasses, the transparent
leaves, the world
of glass, I throw no birds,
lest I become a stone
and plead to myself
for mercy.

In the flat world
of our first endings,
nothing blocks the wind.
It tears up dust.
Clotted stone, pebbles,
the seeds of weeds
are scattered and sown.
This wind passes so quickly
it cannot be drawn
into the lungs.
A woman is huddling
under a black shawl,

who left in the morning
to fetch water
for her children. The earth
has filled the air: it looms
over the horizon; swollen,
we walk on red coals, the slag
on the surface of the sun;
our hands are flames;
trees burn away
in the screams of hawks;
steel girders wail,
spilling black diamonds of oil–
so much is beautiful,
a mouth kissing a mouth
in prayer.

I cannot see
but feel the people
around me;
they have come
from great distance,
each one a word
touching against
a word sentenced
to anguish,

lest we become
those other words
that do not move
as we move our bodies
but fight to replace us
with the end
of the world.
(Oh, we can accept that, but
not the hand
that brings us wisdom
in place of wisdom.)


Communities living in transitional camps
August 2006

By end of August 2006, the International Federation has built
over 10,000 transitional shelters for tsunami-affected families
in disaster-stricken province of Aceh and Nias Island.


by Henry Shukman

Backs of houses

Behind Kingston Road ivy leaves shine with recent rain.
A concrete path between garden walls has mossed black.

Here in the peace no one owns the birds are at home
whistling their tunes, sprucing their wickerwork.

An unhinged gate leans its weight on weeds.
The windows of an empty house are solemn.

Untended place ripe with neglect, a stone’s throw
from the grinding road, give us rest.


East Africa food crisis
March 2006

The International Federation, on behalf of its member
National Societies, is targeting some 800,000 people in
the countries covered by the regional emergency appeals.


by Joel Tan

letter for my half brother at war

what drifts into yr mouth when you’re asleep
granite grit desert ash                you gurgle bubble
breath dreams of sand babies my hair has grown
since you’ve gone      i’ve vowed not
to cut it until your safe return brother
i am a ribbon waiting

when you
chew        i chew father’s tongue thick veined
my boys      my boys he brags my only boys

what music                soothes you there
when you are plagued by
the tak tak takking of teeth rattling

windows the tinny shrill screams doors ripping
from their hinges bombs smarter than ever
corpses piled high sweet sculpture of apocalypse
bang banging            the slip      so sorry to inform
you            he who so bravely fought defended

the green paper fat of it
the rising price of oil of it
utopian drones        presidential sanctions
papal war cries the patriotic cheers of football fans
we bloody our fingers

yellow, orange, red
refuse to fly                forego holidays until the madness settles
what must it be like there? the endless waiting
a township older than some messiah
a township shrouded in darkness            military

carnival of limbs      poison gas perfume
ah, what joy                to be surrounded by
muscular monasticism            america’s
multicultural quilt of skin      freckly pink
the fine brush hairs of youth brown the black
backwood trailers    sweaty patches of the working
poor & that impossible sweat smell    hostages

screaming rusting the saw tooth blades
a nation of headless bodies take arms &
claim glory sweet glory

genital hungry curs                        the blinding
bulbs flashing and digital streams telling
on itself    just so justice
or so it seems can exact itself                        it is useless
to think papa’s provincial
lullabies could hum away the din of a thousand
locusts descending

here you sweet you
nuzzle close to my breast          i shall tell
you a story about    our ancestors & how their seed
spills from the corners of our mouths
when we lie or steal or            sin

out there in the heat of
the waking world      a godly mountain
there        buried beneath sinai                  a vast
graveyard of nameless zealots who ripped
burned starved        their bodies bloodied
their tender backs    to devil away
lust            their guts grinding with ache

you you                        as every good    boy should        will
bring together this ghostly militia with supple and pucker
                       offer up    the smallest
of sacrifices                the giddy thrill of your skin
the greasy slide          rhythmic buck
sweet curve of jaw and grip

you half brother salt harbinger
gather the gulls and rain
an ocean down upon
this ancient city.


April 2006

In Niger, a quarter of all children do not reach their fifth birthday.
Half the deaths among children under five are from malaria.


The poems were given by their authors in aid of the Red Cross
which helps people who have lost everything in Hurricane Katrina
or the tsunami, people who are hungry because of crop failure
or displaced because of conflict.
Please consider donating.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.



3 responses to “Babylon Burning: 9/11 five years on: Poems in aid of the Red Cross”

  1. Thanks for putting the word out on this one – I missed it when I was gathering poems and poetry sites about 9/11 for Poems and Poetry. I’m doing my share to spread the word, too.

    I actually dropped by to ask for your help with this project from a teacher in Albequerque looking for poems for his kids. Glad I did or I’d have missed the 9/11 book.

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