mt. vernon, iowa | interviewed 2-28-2002
"Facing the Enemy" poem
Looking out their upper floor windows
for a moment
they saw the pilot's face
before the intersection
I cannot stop thinking
what did he look like
that face bound to death
committed to what I know only as absence
I read the Times' portraits like a yearbook
looking for high school acquaintances (finding some)
looking for my mid-life self in a fuzzy photo
partners, children, passions abandoned
imagining how mine would read
had my tower been shattered
had I been a woman at the window
In my adopted heartland town
I run at dawn beside the tracks
always startling when I hear the whistle
more like a roar in the heart
for boys have thrown themselves
before the train
midnights while we slept
How did their faces appear
at that moment
before the intersection
The Times' profiles mesmerize
more like litanies than obituaries
they entreat me to bear witness
to a man who Sundays sang
three masses at Sacred Heart
a woman who evenings taught
immigrants language arts
the Grazioso brothers from my hometown
who had reached at last
across the river
to the towers
I read about loss
until I must fold the paper tight
place it in my hearth
watch it smoke, then flame
And all I know from my reading
to be alive is to love
This manuscript of humanness
is engraved with love
for each other
for the things of this world
And those bent on death
they must seek an elusive partner
a promise of love unearthly
free flight ecstasy
in the intersection
and the void
My small town reeled
in the mornings
each time the train stopped
short of the station
Denial and guilt
consumed with our coffee
someone's son brought himself down
Now, the world is my town
and we are at war
geopolitics will not be denied
But first I must understand
what their faces looked like, what they saw
what the next will see
in that disavowal
of one's humanity
I want to believe the look on his face
explains it all
copyright © 2001 Marianne Taylor | All Rights Reserved
I feel that the poems come and take me almost. I don't need motivation. They're there, and it's just giving myself a little bit of space to sit down and let them collect on the page, in a sense. And then of course, I work on them for a long, long time, but it's that first impetus. I keep notebooks and write down things that come to me throughout the day, try to always look at things in a way as if it were material for work that I'd like to do. It makes life a lot more interesting to look at it that way.
An odd thing that happened was, I came home and was hanging up my coat while the television was on, and my two little ones, three and seven, were standing there watching people holding hands and jumping off the building. And I didn't even see that imageI still have not seen that imagebut they did. And that was one that they asked me about repeatedly, over and over again. And my three-year-old went through the process of building Duplo towers and, of course, flying the airplane into them a number of times. So, it was overwhelming. And the media coverage wasI don't know, I was riveted to it. I couldn't not look or not listen, and so I immersed myself in it for several days. It was hard to pull out, actually, at some point.
The house that I grew up in goes up three floors and from the third floor, out the window I could always see the Empire State Building. And then when I was in high school, these other towers started coming up, and so from my room up there, I always saw the World Trade Center. It's going to be strange to look out that window and not see it. I can't imagine driving on Route 3 in north Jersey there and not seeing the Twin Towers. So, there's certainly a visual connection with just the landscape of home.
I didn't have any friends or relatives, but there were two brothers from my high school that graduated a year and two years after me that both died when the building came down. So, there's enough of a connection to take it very personally.
I suddenly wanted to immerse myself in all things New York. I get
the Sunday Times because I couldn't manage a daily paper.
But I wanted to read every corner of the paper in a way that I hadn't
before. It wasn't where I lived, but I certainly went there
often and spent a lot of time there. I worked in the City, and I
very much feel like it's my city in some ways, and so that really
came on strong.
I had to read every one of the little "Portraits in Grief" that were appearing in the paperwhen it first started, especially. I wanted to read all the details of them. It seemed like that would be the least I could do to help, to read about these peoplethat that would be something. That was my offering. I couldn't do other things, but at least I could read about who they were. And so it became very important to do that, and I looked forward to doing it. And I'd wait until everybody was in bed, so that I could really take my time. And of course, I'd cry while reading through these repeatedly. But I had to do it. And I think that was a cleansing mechanism, too.
I think that distrustfulness, I suppose, that sort of came out of the Watergate scandal, and some of the issues of the Vietnam War, that certainly carries through to adulthood. Maybe it doesn't for everyone in my generation, but it certainly does for me. It's made me more skeptical. And also, having traveled extensively outside the United States, and visiting the Soviet Union when it was still the Soviet Union, and seeing America through others' eyesI have recognized that we're not perceived as we perceive ourselves. And so I'm concerned; I'm concerned. Certainly, I have strong feelings for what America is, but I'm not always sure that we are representing that in the best possible way, and so I am concerned.
Marianne Taylor was born in 1956 in Clifton, New Jersey. She grew up in north Jersey, and has one brother who is 14-1/2 years older. Her father immigrated from Czechoslovakia, and her mother is a first-generation American, from Czechoslovakian parents. She spent a lot of time reading and drawing as a child, and also enjoyed writing.
She earned a B.A. in Economics and English from Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and her M.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine. She has taught college-level English since the 1980s, and is currently Associate Professor of English at Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
She has published poetry recently, among her other work and volunteer activities. She lives in Mt. Vernon with her husband and four sons.
Part of her general writer's statement is as follows: "My work moves between short, imagistic poems and longer narrative ones. Lately, the narrative wants to take the upper hand. The subject matter is wide, but the connection is often personal. Setting is frequently an issue in my poems because I've spent most of my life on either coast and am now in the Midwest. I have some desire to recover the rich urban and ethnic landscape of my childhood in northern New Jersey. Overall, I'd like my work to stand as an impression of what it is like to be a woman at the turn of the century, and all the complexity that implies."
I wrote this poem in early October, haunted by the images of the WTC, the daily profiles of the deceased in the New York Times, and a Times article I read which stated that someone in one of the towers, in a cell-phone conversation, said that he saw the plane coming toward him and even saw the pilot. I imagined what might he have seen in that split second look.
It reminded me of the suicides that have occurred in the small midwestern town in which I currently live. I thought about the conductor seeing the face of the boy when it is too late to brake the train. I wondered what a face looks like when it is welcoming death at high speed, and what brings a boy, a man to that point.
This is a big question, and I probably wouldn't have raised it, but for the fact that all the victim's faces, which I could not stop looking at in the Times, seemed so of-this-world. So, in the poem, I consider the other-worldliness of the pilot and of the boys.
Another idea in the poem is that of guilt. In the case of the boys, the town, the whole community, feels some guilt, that somehow we left them outside the circle. And in the case of the pilot, would that not also be true?
I suppose the poem is political in the sense that I believe we must seek to understand why 9/11 happened, but perhaps on a human level most of all.