we all have chernobyl in our lungs

we all have chernobyl in our lungs

we children of catastrophe
cannot sleep
focused on fissures

who left us to die?
those close enough to slip away instantly?
those poisoned
coming apart in the cells?
those willing to risk it all?

the salt sea and fertile loam
can still taste that bitter
and radioactive dust

that slow, invisible ash:
our future

what cannot be contained
becomes us
what i mean is
we all have a cancer now
within us, or between us
in our own bodies
in our structures
in the bodies we love
in the structures we need

directly in our bones
creating rocks from our softest tissues
pitting thyroids and prostates against us
strangeness creeps into us
equal parts violation and colonization
flags of disaster
on each play

now, that contaminated soil
is on the road between the reckless
and the wreck
and in my body i feel the earth
wishing for respite

we all have nuclear bodies
in search of remediation
our bodies cannot hold
this much rage
this much greed

earth does not consent to the violation of war
we do not consent

9:41am, 9/11

i was 6 days into being 23 when 4 planes crashed in 3 states and changed my world. it has been 15 years since that day, and the fact that it still feels recent and relevant, while also permanent and accepted, teaches me so much about the mystery of time.

i came up out of the subway and around the corner and the sky was full of smoke. no it wasn’t full, there was a line of smoke going up from the twin towers, straight down 6th avenue. a fire?

in my office there were no windows, someone had a small tv. i couldn’t grasp what was happening through the news words.

i called my father’s office thinking he would know something, he worked at the pentagon. someone picked up the phone, he said he didn’t know where my dad was, and then the phone disconnected. seconds, minutes later the news said the pentagon had been hit.

a friend called from out of country to ask if we were taking to the streets. i reached another who said this was not that shocking, this country created its own conditions.

i thought myself fairly radical, but in truth i was shocked. and where was my father? and would my crew still meet in the WTC for sushi next week in the restaurant where my friend hooked us up with sashimi for days while we made fun of the capitalists?

i lived up in washington heights, but i walked down the city, towards the smoke, into the dust. i walked to brooklyn, to my chosen family. we watched the news. people had jumped. another plane crashed in pennsylvania. no one’s phones worked.

i had been a vegetarian for years, but that night someone cooked kielbasa and i ate it. we sat eating in the dark at a picnic table and then a bright light came on and we realized the table was covered in a fine dust, and it had to be coming across the water, and we were horrified.

my father finally called, he was safe, and i cried like a child. a few months later we would have the most significant argument of our lives, the space between our perspectives of 9/11 yawning between us, full of triggers.

my country began an endless war against everyone then, and i thought: how could you live through the experience of 9/11 and want to create this sort of tragedy for any other humans? we were covered in each other, we were lost from each other. isn’t this enough?

for 5 years i was reluctant to take the subway, to be underground at all. i made an island life in brooklyn, walked and took the bus places, began to only feel safe amongst black and brown people moving at a slower pace. i wanted to see the sky all the time. i finally left nyc – i never really got used to the new skyline. still when i visit i feel nostalgic, somber.

whatever the world seemed like to me before that day, afterwards it has always been war.

i go through periods of obsession about the day, the people who lived and died that day, the images and sounds and smells of the day. the scale of the tragedy swallows the scale of the choices that were made – to go up, to go down, to go out, to wait, to intervene, to communicate, to run, to help. i have never wanted to look away, i have always wanted to hear every story.

my politics have been shaped by the question: what would make someone hijack a plane and fly it into a building? as someone committed to justice, aware of vast inequality and racism in the world, what are the conditions people are living in that i cannot see, cannot imagine?

trying to answer this question has made me more and more committed to revolution. i have to know, what is my responsibility in creating and maintaining those conditions? how do i learn more about the ways oppression works at home and abroad, make the connections across all this pain and resilience, build towards a future with no enemies?

i write this in the window of my memory, down to the minute. i have written poetry some years, and i slowly see that this is my ritual, how i honor the dead, the changes, the complexity of the american moment, the global moment of 9/11.

i tell the story. perhaps we will always be telling this story.