Thursday

Sep. 11, 2003

To a Terrorist

by Stephen Dunn

THURSDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER, 2003
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "To a Terrorist," by Stephen Dunn, from Between Angels (Norton).

To a Terrorist

For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem

without hope, knowing there's nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one

might offer his father's ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there's nothing else to do.

Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall

in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you're hating me now,
I who own my own house

and live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man's holiness another's absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I'm just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.


Literary Notes:

On this day in 2001, it was a clear, crisp, sunny morning in New York City. Students were in their second week of school. People were getting to work in cars, buses, and trains. Alessandra Fremura had planned on leaving for work at 8:00, but her babysitter was 20 minutes late. Virginia DiChiara couldn't get her golden retrievers to come in from the backyard, so she decided to have another cup of coffee. Kenneth Merlo was supposed to go in the office, but he decided to spend the morning helping a friend hook up her computer instead of going to his office. Michael Lomonaco stopped in the lobby of the World Trade Center to order some reading glasses from the one-hour eyeglass store. Michael Jacobs was running late when he reached the Trade Center lobby. He rushed to make the elevator, but the doors slid shut in his face. A musician named Michelle Wiley was at home in her apartment. She sat down at her piano in her nightgown and shower shoes, and stared out her window at the Twin Towers before beginning to play.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote under the name O. Henry, William Sydney Porter, born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1862). He is famous for inventing a particular kind of short story with a neat plot and a surprise twist at the end. In his most famous story, "The Gift of the Magi" (1905), a woman sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain, and her husband sells his watch to buy her a set of expensive hairbrushes.

It's the birthday of D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence, born in Eastwood, England (1885). He wrote poetry and plays and literary criticism, but he's best known for his novels Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). He had an incredibly difficult life. He was a teacher, but he caught tuberculosis as a young man and eventually became too sick to teach. During World War I the British government suspected he was a German spy, because his wife was German and he opposed the war. He and his wife were forced to stay in England, living in renovated cowsheds and run-down cottages on the edge of poverty. Most of all, he struggled against censorship. More than almost any other writer at the time, he believed that in order to write about human experience, novelists had to write explicitly about sex. When he published his first important novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), he found that his editor had deleted numerous erotic passages without his permission. When he published his novel The Rainbow in 1915, Scotland Yard seized most of the printed copies under charges of obscenity. He was blacklisted as an obscene writer and none of the magazines in England would publish anything he wrote. He finished Women in Love in 1916, but couldn't get it published until 1920, and even then he could only publish it privately. D.H. Lawrence said, "Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »