Consolations by Ann E. Kottner

For Melanie, who told me to, and Marcia, who knew Louise

"Make something beautiful from this,"
she insisted,
before we said goodbye, weeks later.
Not so absurd a request;
I've done it in the past:
Haiti, the Challenger, Pan Am 103,
the random shove in front of a subway train,
even Nagasaki.
I am not the only one.
Boethius, in his confinement,
wrote of philosophy,
Malory, tales of bravery
and betrayals.

At that moment, it seemed impossible
with the uncountable dead
and the tally of art obliterated:
Miro's tapestry incinerated,
Nevelson's relief crushed,
Fritz Koenig's bronze globe
cracked like an unsound bell, and
scattered through the wreckage,
the twisted remains
of Calder's playful fantasy,
splashes of red
against the unrelenting grey
of a scorched reality
each priceless, lost, unreproduceable
as lives.

Across the river, the Pile still burned,
the digging was called search and rescue
as though anyone could still be left alive.
Searching myself, I checked the news, read the paper,
bit my tongue and chewed my nails over
what was written there
only raw facts, rage, and speculation,
nothing to keep a soul alive.

Each morning, for days after
two wonders of engineering
slammed into two wonders of architecture,
eradicating all four,
I opened every shade and curtain,
every window,
to the cool fall air and blue skies
the moment I rose,
wanting clarity and illumination
though there was none.

Nor was there comfort
in other things I love:
not sleep, not beauty, not food.
In those days of the burning,
no music was consoling but the sound
of human voices, live and speaking
through the phone, in the street,
singing in performance or grief.
Otherwise, only silence seemed right:
contemplative, respectful,
the better to gather shattered thoughts
and give form to inchoate prayers,
the better to hear sirens and warnings,
the praise of heroes,
choirs singing requiescat in pace.

And beyond that,
only poems, like sweet water,
were any balm.
Like music, they were
full of voices,
weaving, painting, sculpting
language, the most malleable of media,
and most ephemeral,
but all we had left, then.
Friends and strangers
bound in common horror,
we sent each other
distillates of wisdom and hope
in the shape of verse
free or rhymed or blank, taut
with the knowledge that
elsewhere, others had been through this
before, or something worse,
and found hope and comfort,
or against all odds
learned something
only art could teach.