‘911’: a poem in observance of September 11, 2001

UIC Pavilion sign at a UIC observance of 9/11, held Sept. 2, 2002

A UIC Pavilion sign at a UIC observance of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, held on campus the following year. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


By Sterling Plumpp, professor of African American studies and English
Presented Sept. 11, 2002, at a UIC memorial for Sept. 11, 2001


I dial 911 one more time
to ask if Pearl Harbor is in
Manhattan. Or
to see if anybody knows the
number of a comet
or its tail
Perhaps this is an illusion
though tragedy is a prolonged
emergency. My daughter says “Daddy, Daddy
did you see the plane
go through the building
There, there comes another”

I know instantly

circumstances thread tragedy
through history’s eye.


I am eleven months
when “infamy” pales shore
lines and shores of Pearl Harbor

Victims deaths abort
apprenticeships for the future

Hands bandaging wounds
or counting the dead, obliterate
identity of the foe. I know Jap before I know
Asia or that Japan is a nation, or
that its people are Japanese.

I tremble yes I tremble when I hear
my country has detonated atomic blessings
over Hiroshima and Nagasaki

And Lord, a hundred thousand or more
indelibly shadowed on concrete or on the wind
Black rain falling
Black rain falling


Now sixty years later I know
the innocent perish in fire, smoke
or crumbling debris. I know the innocent
made silent in Pennsylvania fields
and even in Pentagon Corridors.


And yes I know terrorist before I understand
how to spell Arab or Muslim humanity.
And I wonder if smart bombs can tell
difference between a terrorist and an ordinary
Muslim who wants to kiss his wife or
who wants to kiss her husband or hug his or
her children.
Or simply give praises to Allah.

Yes Lord I wonder if black
rain will fall again and again
and I get this bad bad dream
as I dial 911 one more time
to see if the future answers

I am going down, down
and my nose is in the sand
I am going down, down
and my nose is in the sand

A cloud of dust has gathered over me
I feel like I’m drowning on dry land

Sterling D. Plumpp

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