Stories of Hope: A Dream Called Hope

Two firefighters in masks and navy blue T-shirts wade through the rubble and twisted steel at Ground Zero while another descends into a cravasse.
Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum. Roberto Rabanne Archive, photograph by Roberto Rabanne.

On September 11, 2001, poet, journalist, and activist Kevin Powell had just spoken at an event in Syracuse, New York, and planned to fly back to his home in Brooklyn, until a friend called him with the news that the Twin Towers were on fire.

Like millions throughout the world watching the events unfold on television, Powell quickly came to understand that he was witnessing a coordinated attack. In the following days, he traveled back to the city by train, stopping to reflect at the impromptu memorials in Union Square Park.

That November, Powell wrote “September 11th: A Poem” which evokes the confounded horror of witnessing the attacks that gives way to a cautious hopefulness inspired by the selfless response of first responders and a sense of common humanity.


September 11th: A Poem


Might it be, as my mother said to me on this ugly, sinful day,

That the world is on its last go-round?

Hijacked wild birds strip the sky of its innocent morning breath

Steel towers crumple like playing cards on an uneven metal table

Unrehearsed screams we dare not hear leap from windows

Into the open, bottomless palms of God

I cannot stand to watch life reduce

Itself to powdery dust and soot lathering the devil’s inflamed mouth

But I am fixated on the television anyhow:

Is this what slavery was like?

Is this what the holocaust was like?

Is this what famine is like?

Is this what war is like?

Is this how you felt, dear mother, when King and the two Kennedys were killed?

I want to stitch up the sky, deny humans the right to fly

Cry until my tears have washed hatred

From the mildewed underarms of history

And I want to say to the firemen

Ah, yes, the firemen:

Your husband, your father, your brother, your uncle, your friend

Thank you for speeding to the end of

Your time and thank you for showing us that

Courage is a soul so unselfish it would

Scale a collapsing building to liberate a stranger

Even as your blood relatives wonder if you are alive — 

From the remains of this madness

I detect a heartbeat called life

From the remains of this madness

I smell an aroma called love

From the remains of this madness

I embrace a body called humanity

From the remains of this madness

I construct a dream called hope

From the remains of this madness

I will ride the wings of the deceased

Into the clouds, scribble their names on the sun

Erect a memorial to the moon, chant the blues

For New York City, then resurrect a world

Where a new-born rose will jut through the broken concrete.


© 2001 Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, and civil and human rights activist.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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