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Child of 9-11 and Other Poems

The poems on this page are dedicated to the victims and survivors of massacres and tragedies such as Aurora, Columbine, Kent State, Las Vegas, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Marysville Pilchuck High School, Northern Illinois University, Oikos University, Orlando, Red Lake Senior High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech University, Umpqua Community College, University of Arizona, University of Texas, and West Nickel Mines School

Child of 9-11

by Michael R. Burch

a poem for Christina-Taylor Green, who
was born on September 11, 2001 and who
died at age nine, shot to death ...

Child of 9-11, beloved,
I bring this lily, lay it down
here at your feet, and eiderdown,
and all soft things, for your gentle spirit.
I bring this psalm — I hope you hear it.

Much love I bring — I lay it down
here by your form, which is not you,
but what you left this shell-shocked world
to help us learn what we must do
to save another child like you.

Child of 9-11, I know
you are not here, but watch, afar
from distant stars, where angels rue
the evil things some mortals do.
I also watch; I also rue.

And so I make this pledge and vow:
though I may weep, I will not rest
nor will my pen fail heaven's test
till guns and wars and hate are banned
from every shore, from every land.

Child of 9-11, I grieve
your tender life, cut short ... bereaved,
what can I do, but pledge my life
to saving lives like yours? Belief
in your sweet worth has led me here ...

I give my all: my pen, this tear,
this lily and this eiderdown,
and all soft things my heart can bear;
I bring them to your final bier,
and leave them with my promise, here.

What can we do when innocent children like Christina-Taylor Green die so senselessly? We must do all we can to prevent the next senseless murder. That means adults need to act like adults: we need to end the wild proliferation of weapons, politicians spewing lies, hatred and intolerance, and people acting as if the Bible and the Constitution give them the right to abandon reason and go on the warpath. We know the things we need to do, if we want our children to live in a safer, better world. We cannot allow the NRA and fearmongering politicians to rule our lives and endanger defenseless children. We are their only defense. If we want all children to live in a safer world, we need to make a pledge to protect the innocent and put an end to the intolerance and bullying we see everywhere around us. Here is another poem I wrote about the tragedy of children losing their lives, and mothers losing their children:

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

How can we change our world for the better? The same way we ended child sacrifice, witch hunts and slavery. Human societies decided that such things are not acceptable. Today we need to decide, as a society, that things which recklessly endanger children's lives are not acceptable. This means telling politicians like Sarah Palin to tone down their overheated rhetoric. It means telling the NRA to act sanely. It means telling our government that we refuse to send our soldiers (our own children!) to die in mindless wars to "secure" foreign oilfields or to support "allies" who terrorize their neighbors and their own minorities. If terrorism is wrong for our enemies, how can we underwrite terrorism practiced by our "allies"? And we adults need to abandon the ridiculous fantasy that we were attacked without cause on 9-11. (Christina-Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001.) We were attacked on 9-11 because our government constantly interferes in the Middle East over our “oil interests” there (when the oil clearly belongs to the people who live in the region and would be far less expensive if we simply paid the going price for it), and because our government has contributed to the suffering of multitudes of people for more than sixty years, by stupidly and evilly underwriting a new Holocaust, the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinians. Here's a poem I have dedicated to Palestinian children and their mothers:

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

American politicians preach self-righteous sermons on "equal rights" to the Muslim world while never requiring our ally Israel to treat Palestinians like human beings, much less as equals. Instead, our government pours billions of dollars in financial aid and advanced weapons into Israel, which clearly has a national policy of stealing land and water from Arabs, and will continue to do so as long as Americans foolishly foot the bill. As a result, millions of completely innocent Palestinian children have suffered and many have died. If we consider how we feel when one American child is killed unjustly, or abused, we must understand how Palestinians feel when their children are killed unjustly, or are forced to live inside giant walled ghettos and concentration camps, never drawing a free breath. What would we do if our children were treated so horrendously? The answer is clear, so it is vastly hypocritical for Americans to expect anyone else to accept their children being treated like pariahs. Now the fear, anger and despair caused by 9-11 and two decade-long wars are causing some Americans to go on the warpath, to surrender to intolerance, and to practice bigotry. It's past time for American adults to act like adults, and face the facts: 9-11 was avoidable; both wars were avoidable, and the cloud of fear we live under today was (and is) avoidable, if only we adults come to our senses and tell our government to stop funding and supporting this new Holocaust, the Nakba. What happened on 9-11 was not a mysterious event, but the inevitable result of our government playing favorites in the Middle East, and causing other people's children to suffer and die so unjustly. Our children will never be safe as long as our government unjustly endangers other people's children. We have the power to change our world for the better, and an important first step is to change our culture and society to not condone or allow things that endanger innocent children anywhere on the planet. Holocausts are terrible things because they rob innocent children of their health, freedom and happiness ... and all too often, their lives. We Americans opposed the Nazis and their Holocaust. Our soldiers liberated the Nazi concentration camps and wept to see the suffering of the innocent men, women and children they found inside. What would those valiant soldiers say today about Americans funding another Holocaust? Shouldn't we instead tell Israel to do what Americans did ourselves, when we abandoned Jim Crow laws and kangaroo courts, and began treating people of all races as equals? Here's a poem I have dedicated to the Jewish children of the Holocaust:

by Michael R. Burch

Something inescapable is lost—
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone—
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finality has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

Being a father, it breaks my heart to think of the suffering men inflict on mothers and their children, so senselessly. Here is a short poem I would like to dedicate to Christina-Taylor Green, and to all the children who have died so needlessly because adults choose to believe lies rather than face hard facts, and thus choose war over peace:

Piercing the Shell
by Michael R. Burch

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we'll discover what the heart is for.

And of course children and mothers are not the only victims of war. What happened on 9-11 was terrible beyond belief, and many valiant men and women lost their lives needlessly. Here's a poem I wrote about the valiant, heroic passengers of Flight 93:

Flight 93
by Michael R. Burch

I held the switch in trembling fingers, asked
why existence felt so small, so purposeless,
like a minnow wriggling feebly in my grasp ...

vibrations of huge engines thrummed my arms
as, glistening with sweat, I nudged the switch
to OFF ... I heard the klaxon-shrill alarms

like vultures’ shriekings ... earthward, in a stall ...
we floated ... earthward ... wings outstretched, aghast
like Icarus ... as through the void we fell ...

till nothing was so beautiful, so blue ...
so vivid as that moment ... and I held
an image of your face, and dreamed I flew

into your arms. The earth rushed up. I knew
such comfort, in that moment, loving you.

Christina-Taylor Green was born that same fateful day: September 11, 2001. She was born into a nation that has not chosen to practice justice outside its borders, and injustice always breeds violence. She was interested in politics at a tender age, and the first time she went to a political event, she lost her life. We adults should reflect on this. What kind of politician would she have been? A rare one, a good one, I'm sure. Would she have advocated practicing injustice overseas, while preaching sermons to the world on "equal rights" and "justice"? I find that hard to believe. So perhaps adult politicians need to ask and consider why our nation is so hypocritical. Perhaps they need to ask and consider the simple question: what would Christina-Taylor Green say, and do? Then they need to ask why so many American politicians are so obviously not doing what Christina-Taylor Green would have done herself. Perhaps the goals and aims of a good-hearted child could be a litmus test for American politics. But the list of the victims of injustice, violence and war does not end with the children who suffer and die, or their mothers and fathers and immediate families, or their extended families, or even their friends and acquaintances. The suffering and grief reaches us all: we are all victims of every senseless act of violence. Here's a poem I wrote after seeing how my lovely wife Beth suffered as the names of the victims of 9-11 were recounted, on the first anniversary of the tragedy:

Because Her Heart Is Tender
by Michael R. Burch

She scrawled soft words in soap: "Never Forget,"
Dove-white on her car's window, and the wren,
because her heart is tender, might regret
it called the sun to wake her. As I slept,
she heard lost names recounted, one by one.

She wrote in sidewalk chalk: "Never Forget,"
and kept her heart's own counsel. No rain swept
away those words, no tear leaves them undone.

Because her heart is tender with regret,
bruised by razed towers' glass and steel and stone
that shatter on and on and on and on,
she stitches in wet linen: "NEVER FORGET,"
and listens to her heart's emphatic song.

The wren might tilt its head and sing along
because its heart once understood regret
when fledglings fell beyond, beyond, beyond ...
its reach, and still the boot-heeled world strode on.

She writes in adamant: "NEVER FORGET"
because her heart is tender with regret.

Now Beth is grieving for Christina-Taylor Green and the other people who died along with her. I believe her loving, compassionate heart has created an intimate bond between Beth, Christina, and all the victims. Beth's heart hurts, and my heart hurts, because we don't want to see anyone suffering unnecessarily. Beth is a big believer in Ellen DeGeneres's motto and show sigh-off: "Be kind to one another." Beth practices what she calls "random acts of kindness" for complete strangers, as well as for people she knows. And yet our government, especially abroad, does not reflect the compassion and justice we all prize and want to see in ourselves and our children. But we are not innocent victims of what our government does, because we have the voices and the votes to change what it does. If we had demanded that our government practice equality and justice abroad, 9-11 would never have happened. If we had demanded better gun control laws, and that politicians, pundits and demagogues tone down their overheated rhetoric and speak civilly and sanely to the public, it's very possible that Christina would be alive today. Isn't it time for adults to start acting like adults, for the sake of everyone, but especially for the sake of innocent, defenseless children? ―
Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts