Written during the National Cathedral Service

September 14, 2001

Give us a voice

whose song can rise

with hope above the groans.

Give us an organ

whose pipes can send its chords

loud above the din.

Give us fresh flowers

to cover too fresh dirt

on too many graves.

Give us the tears

to wash our blinded eyes

and soothe the searing pain.

Give us the sight

to look beyond debris

and see a better world.

Give us some words

to speak from deep within

and reach the gods.

Give us the ears

and open them wide

to hear the response.

Then give us the sense

and minds open enough

to learn what we must know.

Give us the feet

to stand firm

when the earth quakes.

Give us the legs

to climb out of the dark valley

to a higher place.

And give us the heart

with strong and steady beats

to pump the blood of love.

I intervened in a dog fight

to save my beloved dachshund's life

and felt like I'd plunged into World War III.

The noise was deafening,

it seemed to last an eternity,

and although I prevailed,

I got bit.

Well-anesthetized in the emergency ward,

getting my minor wounds stitched up,

I comment to the doctor on

the far worse plight of Afghani civilians

being maimed and killed by mines and bombs.

"Three a day, by the mines," I remark.

"Not ours," he replies.

Ah yes—the former Evil Empire's.

Let's compute how many quarts or liters of blood

have been spilled by whom,

and explain to God or the Martians,

or maybe the dead,

that we only spilled some of it,

and always for a good cause.

Will I then feel free

to ignore Afghanistan again

and rededicate myself

to what really counts,

to protecting a pampered pet?

Tom Greening

Published in Aftermath, a book of poems about the

9/11 attack.

I was on United Airlines Flight 93

and did nothing.

When Todd Beamer said "Are you ready?"

I was not, and when he said

"Let's roll"

and they charged down the aisle

at the terrorists

I could hardly bear to look.

Gripping my newsmagazine

I sat glued to my seat.

When the crazed plane spun toward the ground

I just closed my eyes.

The explosion was immense, consuming.

It blew me out of my torpor,

and in my final moment,

free of my fears at last,

I wished I had done something.

Then everything went dark.

Tom Greening

Published in Aftermath, a book of poems about the

9/11 attack.

Tim McVeigh has been upstaged,

his rented truck, handmade fertilizer bomb

and modest mid-west target

no match for the pros.

But still, when he meets bin Laden's lads,

scorched souls just arrived down there,

they become buddies.

Even John Wilkes Booth,

James Earl Ray,

Sirhan Bashir Sirhan,

and Lee Harvey Oswald

pay their respects

to hell's new heroes.

Now it's up to the rest of us

to forge a human bond

stronger than theirs.

Find them! They are in there somewhere

mixed with their victims.

Lurking in that rubble

is the terrorists' DNA.

Retrieve it, put it under the microscope

and tell us the origin of evil.

Call in the medical examiners,

odontologists, molecular biologists,

forensic pathologists.

Use gas chromatography

to interrogate every last fragment.

If the nucleus escapes,

look at the mitochondria

until at last we discover

the chemical code of hate.

And then what? Make a vaccine

and spread it with crop dusters

over the whole aching earth?

Nietzsche was wrong—

God is not dead,

but, kidnapped by Satan,

he's developed the Stockholm syndrome.

He's been drugged, brain-washed,

and, tutored by Goebbels,

he's turned into a droning propagandist

for evil.

Milton weeps,

and will not write a sequel.

There is a virus in the sky

blowing around the world in dark clouds

filling our mouths, ears, eyes, lungs,

our already damaged brains.

Our species coughs and wheezes,

and we can barely help each other.

The immunization shots

provided by religions

didn't work, or made us sicker.

Faith healers abound, and nostrums.

Mars looks down at us


Did evolution fail,

or is this just the bad start

of a new century,

merely a readjustment,

a fever that will break,

from which we will emerge

convalescent, wiser,

and perhaps even


Rejoicing at having survived two years

since being diagnosed

with stage four ovarian cancer,

she welcomed her garden's gifts

of succulent tomatoes and squash,

and made further peace

with, what seemed like a century ago

in that same garden,

her son's suicide.

Then, driving to church,

on the radio she heard

that we'd begun bombing Afghanistan.

Sobbing, unable to see through her tears,

she pulled over and surrendered to new grief

at now losing

her love of the world

and the peace she hoped to die in.

How are icicles made?

In particular, what created

the huge one hanging way up there

from the roof of my elementary school,

looming over us awed children in 1939

as Hitler prepared to invade Poland?

Our teachers kept us out from under it

while we stared at its glistening pointed presence,

its ominous dripping, its silent threat

to crash and destroy itself

and the vulnerable creatures below.

All over the world every spring,

every season, every year,

forces silently build up and loom over us.

We can hear ominous dripping if we pay attention,

but the sudden crash,

the plane hitting the tower,

still shocks us,

as if we didn't know all along

what had to happen.

Emergency room nursing had not prepared her

for this. When she arrived

at Ground Zero on September 12

what stunned her even more than the rubble

was the smell.

"Rotting food," she was told,

but she had grown up in war

and knew the reek of decomposing flesh.

She still coughs from the dust,

from the memory of helplessness,

and sees on every wall

the photos of the missing

now interred on Staten Island

along with concrete, steel, glass and dreams,

as tiny sacred shreds.

Tom Greening

Published in Aftermath, a book of poems about the

9/11 attack.

Is this what it takes—

flaming, crumbling tombs on Wall Street,

a burning Pentagon?

Was it not enough to hear

of Vietnam's body counts,

of Chile's disappeared?

The South Bronx is not spectacular,

its rubble uninspiring. Hunger

does not burn bright orange on TV.

Are we now awake

to the pain of the world,

to our part in causing it?

Dante is busy revising "Inferno"

for Broadway, and its producers

are holding auditions for the big parts.

But we will all be on stage.

Look for me in the chorus

holding a spear, or a bucket of tears.

All the king's horses

and all the king's men

cannot put five thousand

together again.

Is there some whole

greater than the sum of these parts,

besides our grief?

The sniffing dogs' noses fill with dust

and they do not rescue our hopes.

Weary diggers in the rubble

with shovels, acetylene torches

and plastic bags

become like worshippers at a shrine,

and the miracle is that

they can go on.

But the galaxy hardly quivered

and angels still do their obscure work.

Somewhere in all this will be revealed

what human beings are made of,

and whether the race can be reassembled

out of so many small, broken pieces.

Seth came from a family of jumpers,

but never thought he'd follow their tradition

in quite this way.

In 1942 his father jumped off a train in Poland

on its way to Auschwitz

and kept scrambling until he landed in the Bronx.

His uncle Harold jumped into Normandy in 1944

and got a medal.

Today Seth was not going to tumble down a grassy embankment

or parachute with comrades into a soggy field.

This was a beautiful September morning in New York

but neither freedom nor victory were options.

The heat and smoke were getting bad

and the way to the stairwell was blocked.

He said goodbye to his wife

just as the phone went dead.

He took a last look at the carefully posed photograph

of her and their son by the Statue of Liberty

and at the stack of unread reports

from which he was now liberated,

then stood on his desk

and smashed open the window with a chair.

He could see Newark, where he grew up poor,

and wryly congratulated himself

for not blowing his bonus

on a new BMW.

His mind leapt to a quote

from one of the Flying Wallendas:

"Life is on the wire. Everything else is preparation."

"Well, no one prepares for this," he thought,

"but I can do it."

Christine clambered up on the desk

and he took her hand.

"Are you scared?" she asked.

"Not really," he replied, "just kind of awed,

and amazed that we're standing here like this."

The heat and smoke got worse,

and it became hard to breathe.

Without speaking, they knew

when it was time to go,

and they flew off together,

his $300 yellow and blue tie flapping over his shoulder

and her auburn hair streaming behind her,

bequeathing themselves to history

and to the humbled witnesses

who must go on living in the world

they sanctified.

Repeat this each night

just before you go to sleep:

Fortress America can no more be penetrated

by box-cutters than the Maginot Line

could be defeated by Panzers.

Our righteousness can no more be displaced

by illegible backward scribbling

than our airport security can be breached

by nervous men with grandiose fantasies.

Our tall buildings are built to last,

as is our civilization.

Our patron saint, Ozymandias,

will guard us from all harm.

With enough shovels

we can survive any attack,

and once we get our missile shield in place

we will be impregnable.

Good night. Sweet dreams.

© 2001 Tom Greening

I'm depressed and hallucinating again,

and need my doctor's help.

I see things on TV

that aren't really there,

or at least I hope not—

Strange bursts of light on the dark screen

over some place they call Kabul,

which as far as I can tell

is not in Kansas.

I see bearded men in turbans

who seem angry with me.

I see grim workers in bulky clothing and odd hats

picking through mounds of dusty rubble

in what the announcer claims

is downtown New York.

At the commercial break

I'm told that depression

is a biological illness,

and I'm reassured by the hearty announcer

that Prozac will cure me.

Because I'm such a coward

I'm grateful to be living

in this brave new world

where doctors really care,

and I must say that

when my TV plays tricks on me

even the look of those pretty little pills

cheers me right up.

I wasn't there on 9/11

and didn't see the people jumping,

but I am reassured to hear

from Denise, age 5,

who was at school across the street,

that the jumpers floated down slowly, gently,

suspended from brightly colored parachutes.

Thus the world is not as horrible as I feared,

and soon the towers will be rebuilt

strong enough to last forever

so that when Denise grows up

planes will just bounce off them,

and the bad people will know we are all good

and will try to be just like us.

Give Us a Voice

Blood Brothers

Find Them!


Is This What It Takes?

Body Parts

Sweet Dreams


"Charlie Parker made it to age 34 before the snow buried him and the ice got too thin beneath his feet."

Jazz Poems    

Copyright © 2018 by Tom Greening. All rights reserved.

Writing and Poetry by Tom Greening



Buriel Ground

How Are Icicles Made?

New Grief

Paradise Lost Again


Not Ours