The Wound of Manhattan

A Holocaust Poem for 9/11

The Horror

Oh – the ashes! Dissolved in the dust of the ruins
of our Twin Towers of Babel, merge forever
the sacred remains of the slain... as well as their slayers.

Humanity! Your name is being abused
again to justify mass murder for righteousness,
freedom, goodness and God... whichever god.

Appoint for the killers safe cities to hide and to heal
for they are turning themselves into bombs in flight,
exploding a Holocaust of random hatred,
destroying themselves with others they do not bother
even to count or encounter or comprehend.

The rage and the plight of the world have accumulated,
blighting the human face and the beauty of life.
A lust for death and betrayal invades our households.
As the sap withdraws from a winter-chilled tree,
the vital lights of our culture retreat below ground.
The worldwide web sags limp in our digital newsrooms.

The news is stark. It may dismay us: If we
trample down the soft black earth of the molehills,
the soft new Holocaust ashes might... fill our mouths.



From the ashes, arises this psalm of our time:
Just yesterday, the killers dug up the sacred
bones of our dead and boiled them up for soap.
Today, our own societies clandestinely
harvest our own remains for commercial use.
God of the Jews! and Jesus! and Allah! Whoever!
...But they can tolerate this, as long as we will.

My God, this hatred burns Your very domain,
the land where the predator does not detest the prey
but desires it, where the eyes of the carnivore
are as green as the grass, where the satiated lion
peaceably lies alongside the trusting lamb.

Oh – the powerful burden of the ashes!
Gather a handful from the grounds of our ruined
Towers of Babel, my Lord, to wipe away
the rage from face of humanity, Thine own image
that lives and dies by slaughter and by inheritance.

For there is no hatred left in the ashes... I know that.
For sacred are the remains of people, and pure
the marks of the Lord and the people left in the ashes. 


Mourning Manhattan, daughter of America:
squat down on your stiletto heels in the ashes,
this tender, soft, rich dust, and summon a jeweller
to fashion the ashes into bracelets and rings
to advertise your magnetic might and wealth,
and a necklace with a medallion adorned
by your delightful profile in high relief...
like the raised security print on a banknote.

You ruled the world from these twin towers of trade,
and wore a mantle of glass that swallowed the light
without reflecting an image. From the multitude
of our immigrants’ boats, we marvelled at your dark,
magnificent, impenetrable sunglasses.

And your super-fast elevators raised us
from our sea-levels to the waters of heaven.
And even the traders of the ancient world
still lift their envious gaze towards your shores
across the millennia. Fleets of sunken galleys would
gladly rise from the depths to bring you their cargoes
because you have become our mainmast, America! 



Your dainty shoes, Manhattan, have walked the moon.
Your frontiers today embrace the celestial bodies.
You have adapted our oars of Biblical craftsmanship
to navigating your solar-powered spacecraft...

Collect the surviving treasures of Solomon’s fortune
from the Holocaust ashes, for they want to please you.
And so do the wines congealed in the lost amphorae,
the diamonds and rubies and jades of the Queen of Sheba,
and all the world’s data that seek to advise you of goods
on offer, and goods in demand. We must sail on –
the message of traders will soon be bounced between
the planets across the electric storms of space.

Your enterprise is admired by all the world.
Even your enemies share your loss of the towers
whose busy trading floors collapsed with the dreams
of profits entertained by warrior merchants
who have hung up their shields and helmets and swords
in your spirit: Wage no war – but trade!

Humanity that you’ve led into space, Manhattan,
trusts you to shape and define our shared ambitions. 


The Merchant

And the towers of our ambition will rise again
and our conflicting tongues and dreams and schemes
prevail and unite in common comprehension.
But first we must learn again... how to run business.

Those who have eyes and ears can see and hear:
Good merchants do not prey upon strangers. They welcome
and offer them tea and cakes and fragrant seeds,
because the security of home and business
depends upon the safety of every road.

When such traders display their wares, their spirit
ennobles their merchandise, for they love the essence
of trade as well as its substance, and they convey
their customers past the sand-dunes of commerce towards
the pleasure of mutual gain rewarding a sale.

Such endeavours survive any suicide flight
because a trustworthy merchant serves the consumer,
because the God of the Jews and Jesus and Mohammed
sails with the flying carpet of Aladdin’s spirit.

Don’t let the worshippers of death detain you –
Arise from the Holocaust dust and walk, Manhattan! 


The Advice

And listen again how an ancient teacher and trusted
business consultant put it: If in your greed
you add house to house and join field to field,
you will be left to live alone in the land.
He spoke to you and me in the greatest best-seller
spanning our space and time: How dare you crush
and grind the faces of the poor into dust?*

Your answer to our need... must be pure as the ashes.
The faces, the eyes, the mouths, the dreams of the poor
are all your markets, Manhattan. You must protect them.

Deploy the power of your wealth to ease the pain
of the gaping wounds of our decaying cities.
Leave us something worth saving. Return a third
of the profits. Dampen the faceless embers of rage.

Remain the spiritual tower of our freedom,
America, support our wretched masses,
and give us sanctuary! give us work, and a chance:
give us a chance in our lands against our tyrants!
And learn to respect humanity’s loss in the sacred
dust of even the slayers... as well as the slain.

*The Bible/Isiah, 3:15.

András Mezei (1930-2008)

Andras Mezei

Translated from the Hungarian & Edited by Thomas Ország-Land

If you have any comments on this poem,
Thomas Ország-Land would be pleased to hear from you.