Marge Piercy, the Prophet Ezekiel, "Ashes & Stone", 9/8/2003
We are making available three passages of liturgy/ poetry/ prophecy that you might find useful in memorials for the dead of 9/11 — and those who are still dying .
(According to recent news reports, delays and falsehoods by the Environmental Protection Agency about environmental dangers in the pulverized dust from the Twin Towers has probably condemned hundreds or thousands of others, and their children, to illnesses and deaths that are still unfolding.)
The poet and novelist Marge Piercy did us the great honor of sending THE SHALOM REPORT a memorial poem for us to circulate to you. We invite you to use it, as part of your own memorial.
Below Piercy's poem we have emplaced two other passages you might want to use for memorials: a "Litany of Dust and Ashes" and a pasaage from the prophet Ezekiel.
Al three serve well to encourage reflection on what happened and why, rather than mere reaction. Reflection that helps, like our reflection in a mirror, to let us look within our selves.
No one came home
Max was in bed that morning, pressed
against my feet, walking to my pillow
to kiss my nose, long and lean with aqua-
marine eyes, my sun prince who thought
himself my lover. He was cream and golden
orange, strong willed, lord of the other
cats and his domain. He lay on my chest
staring into my eyes. He went out at noon.
He never came back. A smear of blood
on the grass at the side of the road
where we saw a huge coyote the next
evening. We knew he had been eaten
yet we could not know. We kept looking
for him, calling him, searching. He
vanished from our lives in an hour, My cat
have always died in old age, slowly
with abundant warning. Not Max.
He left a hole in my waking.
A woman leaves her children in day care,
goes off to her secretarial job
on the 100th floor, conscientious alway
to arrive early, because she needs the money
for her children, for health insurance,
for rent and food and clothing and fee
for all the things kids need, whose father
has two new children and a great lawyer.
They are going to eat chicken that night
she has promised, and the kids talk of that
together, fried chicken with adobo, rice
and black beans, food rich as her love.
The day is bright as a clean mirror.
His wife has morning sickness so doe
not rise for breakfast. He stops for coffee,
a yogurt, rushing for the 8:08 train.
Ignoring the window, he writes his five
pages, the novel that is going to make
him famous, cut him loose from the desk
where he is chained to the phone
eight to ten hours, making cold calls.
In his head, naval battles rage. He
has been studying Midway, the Coral
Sea, Guadalcanal. He can recite
tonnage, tides, the problems with torpedoes.
For five years, he has prepared.
His makeshift office in the basement
is lined with books and maps. His book
will sing with bravery and error.
The day is blue and whistles like a robin.
His father was a fireman and his brother.
He once imagined being a rock star
but by the end of high school, he knew
it was his calling, it was his family way.
As there are trapeze families, clan
who perform with tigers or horses,
the Irish travelers, tinkers, gypsies,
those born to work the earth of their farm,
and those who inherit vast fortune
built of the bones of others, so familie
inherit danger and grace, the pursuit
of the safety of others before their own.
The morning smelled of the river,
of doughnuts, of coffee, of leaves.
When a man fell into the molten steel
the company would deliver an ingot
to bury. Something. Where I live
on the Cape, lost at sea means no body.
You can't bury a coffin length of sea
water. There are stones in our grave
yards with lists of names, the sailor
from the ships gone down in a storm.
MIA means no body, no answer,
hope that is hopeless, the door
that can never be quite closed.
Lives are broken off like tree limb
in a storm. Other lives simply dissolve
like salt in warm water and there i
no shadow on the pavement, no trace
They puff into nothing. We can't believe.
We die still expecting an answer.
Los desparecidos. Did we notice?
Did we care? in Chile, funded,
assisted by the CIA, a democratic
government was torn down and thousand
brought into a stadium and never seen
again. Reports of torture, reports of grave
in the mountains, bodies dumped at sea
reports of your wife, your son, your
father arrested and then vanished
like cigarette smoke, gone like
a whisper you arent quite sure you
heard, a living person who must, who
must be somewhere, anywhere, lost,
wounded, boxed in a cell, in exile,
under a stone, somewhere, bones,
a skull, a button, a wisp of cloth.
In Argentina, the women marched
for those who had disappeared.
Did we notice? That happened
in those places, those other place
where people didn't speak English,
ate strange spicy foods, had dictator
or Communists or sambas or goas.
They didnt count. We didn't count
them or those they said had been
there alive and now who knew?
Not us. The terror has come home.
Will it make us better or worse?
When will we understand what terrorist
never believe, that we are all
precious in our loving, all tender
in our flesh and webbed together?
That no one should be torn
out of the fabric of friends and family,
the sweet and sour work of loving,
burnt anonymously, carelessly
because of nothing they ever did
because of hatred they never knew
because of nobody they ever touched
or left untouched, turned suddenly
to dust on a perfect September
morning bright as a new apple
when nothing they did would
ever again make any difference.
Copyright 2002 Marge Piercy
Box 1473, Wellfleet MA 02667
Litany of Ashes and Stone
In Memory of the Dead of 9/11/01
And All Victims of Terrorism and War
For vibrant lives suddenly and shamelessly sacrificed we lift up the ashes of our loss, O God.
For the lives that continue, haunted forever by the pain of absence we lift up the ashes of our remorse, O God.
For the conflagration of flames and nightmare images forever seared into our memories we lift up the ashes of our pain, O God.
For the charred visions of peace and the dry taste of fear we lift up the ashes of our grief, O God.
For all that has been destroyed in the fire of anger we lift up the ashes of our disillusionment, O God.
For all the deaths that have been justified with the arrogance of patriotism and fanaticism of ideology we lift up the ashes of our shame, O God.
As we cast these ashes into the troubled water of our times, Transforming One, hear our plea that by your power they will make fertile the soil of our future and by your mercy nourish the seeds of peace.
The people cast the ashes in silence into the river.
For the ways humanity pursues violence rather than understanding we lift up the stones of our anger, O God
For the ways we allow national, religious and ethnic boundaries to circumscribe our compassion, we lift up the stones of our hardness, O God
For our addiction to weapons and the ways of militarism we lift up the stones of our fear, O God
For the ways we cast blame and create enemies we lift up the stones of our self-righteousness, O God
As we cast these stones into this ancient river, Transforming One, hear our plea:
Just as water wears away the hardest of stones, so too may the power of your compassion soften the hardness of our hearts and draw us into a future of justice and peace.
The people cast the stones in silence into the river.
— By Rev. Patricia Pierce, pastor of Tabernacle Church, Philadelphia
Ezekiel 37: 1-11 (translated by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)
The hand of YHWH, the Breath of Life, was on me,
And in a rushing-breath-of-wind YHWH brought me forth
and set me in the center of a valley -
Full of bones!
- And led me all around them, all around.
Here! - Very many on the face of the valley,
and here! - utterly dry.
And That One said to me;
"Child of Adam, earthling, can these bones live?"
I said - "Pillar of the World, Breath of Life -
You know-it-in-your-heart, and only you."
Then God said to me,
"Prophesy upon these bones!
Say to them,
Hear the word of the One Who breathes all life!
Thus speaks the Pillar of the World, the Breath of Life, to these bones:
"Here! - I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
For upon you I will lay muscles,
Upon you I will raise up flesh,
Upon you I will spread skin,
Within you I will give breath —
So you shall live,
And you shall know-in-your-heart that I am Yahh, the Breath of Life."
So I prophesied according to the connection given me,
And as I prophesied, a Sound and — here! — a loudness,
And the bones came together, bone to bone.
I looked, and — here! — upon them there were muscles, flesh, and skin —
But there was no breath within them.
Said the One to me:
"Prophesy to the rushing breath —
Prophesy, child of Adam, earthling, and say to the breath:
'Thus says the Pillar of the world, the Breath of life:
"From the four rushing, breathing winds,
Come O Breath,
And breathe into these slain,
That they may live." ' "
So I prophesied as the One had shown me the connection,
and the breath came into them,
They came to life, and stood upon their feet,
Beyond, yes beyond! powerful and great.
A comment by AW: What brings these dead to life again is not only the winds and breath of all life, from the "four winds." These are necessary, but not enough. It also takes the prophetic breathing of a human being — breathing words of possibility and transformation.
As we face the dead of 9/11, of AIDS in Africa, of Afghanistan and Iraq and of the armies that were sent there, we can give them new life — but only if we speak out, aligning our own breaths with the Breath of all life.
What are the words we need to speak?