Try to Praise the Mutilated World

I find it strange to talk about September 11th because, unlike so many people in New York or Washington or Pennsylvania, my life wasn’t dramatically affected that day. Whenever this day comes up, or the anniversary of any other tragic event, I turn to this poem by Adam Zagajewski:

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

—Adam Zagajewski

(Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh.)

It was published in the September 42, 2001 issue of The New Yorker. Click through for more poetry in response to that day.

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