We thought that they were gone--
we rarely saw them on our screens--
those everyday Americans
with workaday routines,

and the heroes standing ready--
not glamorous enough--
on days without a tragedy,
we clicked--and turned them off.

We only saw the cynics--
the dropouts, show-offs, snobs--
the right- and left- wing critics:
we saw that they were us.

But with the wounds of Tuesday
when the smoke began to clear,
we rubbed away our stony gaze--
and watched them reappear:

the waitress in the tower,
the broker reading mail,
a pair of window washers,
filling up a final pail,

the husband's last "I love you"
from the last seat of a plane,
the tourist taking in a view
no one would see again,

the fireman, his eyes ablaze
as he climbed the swaying stairs--
he knew someone might still be saved.
We wondered who it was.

We glimpsed them through the rubble:
the ones who lost their lives,
the heroes' doubleburials,
the ones now "left behind,"

the ones who rolled a sleeve up,
the ones in scrubs and masks,
the ones who lifted buckets
filled with stone and grief and ash:

some spoke adifferent language--
still no one missed a phrase;
the soot had softened every face
of every shade and age--

"the greatest generation" ?--
we wondered where they'd gone--
they hadn't left directions
how to find our nation-home:

for thirty years we saw few signs,
but now in swirls of dust,
they were alive--they had survived--
we saw that they were us.

by Joan Murray

Other poems of JOAN MURRAY (8)

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