cedar rapids, iowa | interviewed 2-27-2002
"Those Who Are With You" poem
From the windows of P.S. 234 one child sees bodies falling,
"Look, the birds are on fire." Child, it is the birds
of our innocence. Every time a body tumbles
toward earth, two little boys make the sign of the cross.
They do what they can. Stuyvesant High School students
stumble out of Latin, Chem. I, Microbiology, all transformed
into theater students wearing costumes of ash and masks of dust.
Led over Brooklyn Bridge, several whom you do not see
go with you.
Miss Marianne Moore, I know you're flying,
your magical cloak, like superman's, spread like wings
above the children, your benign face
beneath your tricorn hat, "Like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words
from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge...come flying."
"And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence
to me, and more in my meditations than you might suppose."
Oh, Walt, they do not wail nor weep, but they will come
to weeping. There are not enough tears to wash away
Smoke sews Lady Liberty a new and terrible dress.
People are falling or jumping,
not like the movies with sleek swan dives,
but grotesque, jerking tumbles, neckties floating out
like pennants of distress.
"It avails not, time nor placedistance avails not,
I am with you, men and women of a generation, or ever so
many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a
Somewherein the fire is the man
with the nervous shark tooth.
Somewhere his cohorts are dancing obscene dances
to the goddess of death. Oh, Stamboul Queen,
you have seen the "teased remnants of the skeletons
of cities." Great girders lean naked,
raw ribs of the city, stripped of flesh,
fires beneath them will burn seven weeks later...
that ghastly sweet smell you cannot speak of.
Oh, humankind's soul is more fragile than flesh.
All of Them Together
Students, Hart Crane sees the Hand of Fire behind you,
and somewhere in the crowd he is the sailor stumbling
along beside you, trying to catch up with Marianne Moore
hovering above you, and Walt Whitman, tramping along,
who keeps reciting, "Who knows, for all the distance
I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot
Walt, Hart, Mariannein the broken glass,
let the children step lightly, let them pass
unscathed, as unscathed as any
on this day of agony.
copyright © 2001 Ann Struthers | All Rights Reserved
One of the most terrible sights, I think, was to see people running all covered with the ash. We have never seen Americans running away from the disasters of war beforenot American civilians. And although the pictures of the planes flying into the towers and then the flames erupting, of course, stick with us and will always be in our minds, it's really that picture of those ashen faces fleeing which I thought was so terrible.
I couldn't write right away about it. It really took me several weeks. And I'm not even sure even now that what I've written is the thing I really want to write. I mean, the events are so enormous, and so awful in the original meaning of the word awe-full. I'm not sure that what's being written now is going to be what we really want to say yet.
I lived in the Middle East for two years, out among the people. My students had been very frank with me in Syria and in other places where I'd lectured. Revenge is a big part of life in the Middle East. The people we knew in the Middle Easteducated people, people whom I respectedwere very critical of the United States for not having gone in after Saddam Hussein after Desert Storm. Everybody thought this was a big mistake and, essentially, the thinking was that the United States was cowardly. That's the way it was looked at in the Middle East. Now, I don't approve of bombing, I don't approve of war. I wish there were some other way. But there is no respect for the United States unless we are willing to back up our words with deeds in those societies.
Newsweek had an article about the kids from Stuyvesant High and the grade school kids at P.S. 234. And I thought, Good heaven, how terribly traumatic this is for children. I mean, it was terrible enough for we adults who lived far, far away, but this had to be really awful.
And then, of course, I really knew that Brooklyn and Brooklyn Bridge are really essential in American literature. They're pivotal in many cases. So I quote from Walt Whitman about Brooklyn and about being with you. And Hart Crane, of course, wrote this long poem, "Brooklyn Bridge," and in it, of course, is the Stamboul Queen and the hand of fire and so on. And then about Marianne Moore, this comes from a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. Marianne lived in Brooklyn for a good share of her life. Elizabeth Bishop invokes her across the Brooklyn Bridge and tells her to come flying with this black cloak. I think all of those were there that day.
I do think it's important that the writers, to the very best of their ability, tell the truth. There are lots of places in the world where we're hated and there are some very good reasons why we're hated. I think the writers have to talk about this. I think the media has to talk about this. I think we need to examine foreign policy. I think Congress needs to be very careful. I have some questions about some of the belligerent things that have been said by high government officials, because I don't think they're serving the country well. I think they're hurting the country in the long run. This concerns me greatly. Because I think they're being interpreted in the worst possible way in many places overseas. We don't need to give the people who hate us any more ammunition.
Ann Struthers was born in Terril, Iowa in 1930, and grew up on a farm near there. She is the oldest of six children. She has always loved writing.
She earned a B.A. in English from Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern Letters from the University of Iowa, Iowa City.
She taught, raised four children, pursued graduate degrees, and has been teaching at the college-level for many years. She has been a visiting professor and writer in residence at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, since 1986. She has published many articles, reviews, interviews, short stories, poems, and collections of poetry.
From 1996-1998, she received a Fulbright Fellowship, teaching for two years at the University of Aleppo in Syria.
She lives with her husband in Cedar Rapids, and continues to teach at Coe College and write.
I was in my office on the morning of September 11th, getting ready for my first class when a faculty member stopped by the secretary's office which is next to mine and said that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. My first reaction was that it was an accident. Then someone else appeared and said that there was a second plane crash into the other tower. Then I knew it wasn't an accident. I had lived in the Middle East for two years from 1996-98, and I remembered that the first bombing at the WTC had been carried out by Islamic militants. I feared that Middle Easterners were again involved. I knew so many wonderful people in Syria and in many other Middle Eastern countries that I grieved for them as well as for our country. Mostly however, I felt numb. I was in a state of shock as I walked across the campus. Part way into the class we were joined by Debra Marquart, a poet from Ames, who was going to give a reading from her work at 11 that morning. Just before the class closed, someone appeared and told us that all classes at Coe for the day were canceled. I knew then that we couldn't go on with the reading. Debra Marquart agreed with me. She had driven over from Ames, listening to CDs, not hearing any news. She was as traumatized as I was. Gavin Cross, a faculty member of the Marquis Committee who sponsored the reading, Debra, and I walked over to Brewed Awakenings, a coffee house adjacent to the campus and sat there looking into the steam rising from our cups and commiserated with each other. I don't remember much of what we said. I think we didn't say much. What could be said about such a tragedy, such an outrage? But it was a comfort just to be with other people. Later as I watched the events unfold on TV and read more about it in newspapers and news magazines, I came upon the information about students being evacuated across Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn and Brooklyn Bridge figure large in American literature. Then I began to see that poets who were associated with it were there, too, helping those children across. That became the inspiration for the poem. When the terrible events were happening, I had the presence of two friends to see me through, and then I felt certain that those students had the presence of Marianne, Walt and Hart hovering above them.