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Poem portrays MDS as ‘harbinger of hope’ after Sept. 11 attacks

September 14, 2021

First time in the city?


          Where you from?

                 The Prairies.


Want to share your first impressions?

     Sure, why not.

           Good, I’m listening.


Well, for starters there are lots of taxis on the streets,

     mostly yellow,

          over 10,000 of them I’m told.


Lots of people too, all sizes, shapes, colors, and ethnic origins,

     teenagers, young adults, babies, and elderly.

            Most of them going somewhere

                 and in a hurry.


Houses crowded close together 

      with many flats on top of others.

             So many people. I don’t believe there would be room enough 

                    for them on the street

                             if they all decided to come out at the same time. 


Shops, big ones downtown,

     and uptown too.

          But it is the small mom and pop shops that seem to support the feel of care  and community  

                     in this overpopulated corner of the earth.


A subway system that goes everywhere.


          It frees the population to move and be 

               with each other in ways that they choose.

                    At work, at play, 

                         and in meaningful community.

                             It takes you underground to places called

                                   Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.


Buildings here are close together,

     and tall.

          They form walls that move upward from the street,

               beyond what one can see and

                    scrape the very sky itself.

     Each building taller than the last.

          Street after street, after street,

               until one comes to the place where the tallest of them all

                    lies in a heap several blocks wide and many blocks long,

                         debris now. 

                               Six stories above ground

                                    and seven below.  

                                         Smoldering these four weeks now.

                                              Still hot with ashes of trade, dreams,

                                                    and hatred,

                                                         born who knows where.


There are second impressions too.

     Of walls and walls and walls

          of posters with photos. 

               See how they reveal

                    the shades of skin

                         as varied as the colors of the earth.


     Be attentive to the words written

          beside each photo. 

               Help me find my husband Charles. 

                    Have you seen my wife.

                         This is our daughter, Suzzanne.  

                              She might have forgotten her name.

                                   If you see her help her to call us at……

                                        We love her so.

     This is a photo of my friend,

          I haven’t seen him since last Tuesday. 

               He may be confused. 

                    If you find him call at……

      Then there was the photo I could not take my eyes away from.

          Have you seen my daddy?

               I miss him so.


     Names. Take a look at the names. 

          Say them out loud, they sound like they might be

               Japanese, Hispanic, African, Korean, English, Russian,

                    Thia, French, Vietnamese, American, Chinese, Guatemalan.

                          And that one over there,

                               Perhaps Middle Eastern.

     Photos, of people……… many people.

          With friends,

               and colleagues,

                    and families,

                         and lovers,

                              and countries of their own.






Third impressions.

     Surviving buildings 30, 35 and 50 stories high, 

          painted in smudge now.

               Many standing empty. 

                    Some with broken windows,

                         others with outer walls missing.


     The air that still smells of death

          and breathes heavy. 


     The pile that is still hot and smokes,

          while the jaws of the huge, tracked vehicles tug at the fallen stories,

               one hundred and ten of them.

                    Or was it two thousand seven hundred and thirty.


     The debris laden trucks being rinsed off before leaving the area.

          The tired firefighters, marching away from their latest shift

               in silence.


     The store fronts with red and yellow signs in their windows which read,

           One half off,

               Three quarters off

                    Going out of business sale.


     The already vacant store next door.


     The loud cries for revenge, war, and death to other human beings.


     The long rifles in the airport, held by fatigue clad soldiers

          too young to know

               when not to pull the trigger.


But third impressions also include harbingers of hope and healing.

     The mother and daughter gently leaning on each other 


               while traveling on the subway.


      The commuters reading 

           the Torah

                 the Koran

                     the Bible.


          The children selling their cookies on the street,

               giving the proceeds to those harmed by the terrorists.


          The homeless person giving directions

                 to a lost prairie boy. 


           Or consider the peace march from union square to time square,

                 and the cry of the people,

                      NOT IN MY NAME.

                           The Vietnam veteran who said,

                              we veterans have lived with post-traumatic stress disorder

                                    for thirty years. 

                                         We don’t need any more

                                               and neither do you. 

                                                     YOU MAY NOT GO TO WAR IN MY NAME


          The parents who said we lost our daughter in World Trade Tower #2 

               YOU MAY NOT GO TO WAR IN MY NAME.


          The grandfather who lost his grandson in World Trade Tower #1 said, 

               YOU MAY NOT GO TO WAR IN MY NAME.        

                    Such war would bring him no honor,

                         and me no peace.


          The police officer who left his long line of blue to march beside me 

               said “We don’t need any more killing.

                    We have had enough already.”


     The council woman who stepped up to the microphone and said,


               nor do you have permission to take one person from the Bronx.

                    Not in our name.


     The conversations on the street 

          between persons of faith,





     These voices and many, many others are harbingers of hope

          especially now.

     We are all called to be


               especially now. 


                            Images and reflections of a newcomer to New York City

                                       October 2001

                                                       Paul Unruh, a Prairie Boy