September 11, 2011


The Names

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

--Billy Collins (Copyright 2002, All Rights Reserved)

Billy Collins was appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003 and was asked by the Librarian of Congress to write a poem to remember the victims of September 11th. This poignant poem is what he wrote, and if you'd like to hear him read it aloud and listen to an interesting interview with Collins conducted by Jeffrey Brown of PBS, please click here.

Today, we will solemnly observe the 10th anniversary of September 11th and reflect on that sad day — especially on the people who lost their lives that morning, who had gotten up and gone to work or to travel — with a spouse, child, parent, friend, colleague, or alone — to somewhere ... to connect with others and to propel the goodness in life. We will also remember the brave rescue workers, police, firemen and citizens whose actions and efforts to help others that day revealed the tireless strength of the human spirit. 


  1. Thanks for placing this poem, I think the whole day on te victems of 9/11.Lets hope this never happen again.... Whish you all the best. Love from Margreet

  2. Thank you for sharing! It is still hard to believe what happened 10 years ago.

  3. Great post! I think we all held our loved ones a little closer and hugged them a little tighter that day, and in the days to follow. Life as we knew it would never be the same...but we also proved to the world what strong, resilient, caring people we are.

  4. I hear the words, I see the bumper stickers, I read the newspaper. Since that day, I've seen "We will never forget" countless times. They are more than just words. Every single one of us can have a flashback of 9-11 within a millisecond. This poem brings our collective feelings together in one place. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I loved this poem the first time I read it, thank you for bringing it back to us today.

  6. Kate,
    Thank you fior this post. It is such a somber day and yet it dies bound us together more. I have a son whose birthday is also today so it is hard to think about that.


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