On September 12th, 2001, I was sitting with a bunch of anarchists in an illegally occupied apartment in Washington, DC, while military vehicles were humming in the streets around us. I really thought that we were going to get rounded up and thrown into jail. We had been planning a political protest for the October gathering of the World Bank. It had to be called off of course. September 11th completely killed the momentum of the anti-globalization movement at a moment when it was really starting to get traction.
It was a sad and scary time. But it was also one of the most beautiful moments of community I’ve ever experienced with strangers. We actually talked to each other on the subway for about a week. There were so many candlelight vigils. So this is a poem about the grief and love and rage and hope of living in DC when everything fell apart and a community came together.
I apologize if the title is off-putting to people who lost loved ones on that day. The point of calling it “Babylon Bleeds” is to recognize our complicated reality. We are Babylon in the sense that we are the greatest empire in the world today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bleed and experience pain.
she is holding a knife.
I could not recognize
my life of twenty four years.
All the jaws became unhinged;
All the fingers grasped the smallest salts;
All the feet began to dig
for an open womb.
I stood in a crowd of claimers;
We were waiting for a piece of rubble;
Some wanted to carve stigmata
into their arms;
Some wanted to break the pieces
over their knees;
Some were digging for food;
Others wanted to build new towers.
Like a room of distorted dancers;
The music swelled
In concrete basements
Where men with fists
We were told that it was time to sing
And we were shown where to put our hands;
And we found our eyes transfixed
By symbols of freedom.
But the walkers still walked;
The droopers shared their drooping handshakes;
Mint juleps were served and stirred;
“Humor is the only healthy thing,”
spoke one to his twitching teenage date.
My son broke his neck;
Will you seize him by the throat
And make him turn the other cheek?
My daughter chokes on napalm;
She curses all living things –
Will you cut out her tongue?
My friend is a Sikh;
he got shoved off the subway.
“Tell all your colored friends
they’re won’t be sit-ins for a while,”
said the soldier with a smile,
showing the coffee-sippers
to their self-help aisle.
We did not need his direction
to the section
of books about to be banned.
But for a week,
Chemists and secretaries
the meaning of the lottery,
which candles produced
the best-flavored tears;
People shared their sun-chips
and sips of grape soda;
for a week,
the world had lost all its germs.
“Just let them see the body bags,”
she said, after a bite of home fries
at our favorite local diner.
And as she spoke, I looked into
the distant desert mountains
where two rams
had started their circling.
Some flies attended
To their wounded mother.
I put some egg on my fork
And thought of the unborn,
how a mother’s womb is the greatest weapon.
I answered my friend,
“How many soldiers must get womb-flesh
on their swords before they find the Messiah?”
Will they use candles or torches
to root out
the children of the moon?
They will try to make daylight
with their bright fires
streaming into alleys,
to the cracks of forgotten cellars.
And as the firemen rush forth
to tackle the emerging shadows,
no one will notice the new family,
milling through the crowds,
using our rainbow names.