Tenth Anniversary Issue: A Tribute to Guest Editors
Volume 11:1, Winter 2010
Guest Co-Editor, DC Places, Summer 2006
The first time I visited Washington, DC, was with my Girl Scout troop in 8th grade. It was the furthest I had ever been from home at the time. A photographer took a group portrait of us with our congressman on the steps of the Capital. Later, he gave us an insiders tour of the building. Since 9/11, do kids get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their government at work? I doubt it. It amazes me that I still remember Representative Freylinghausens name. As I do the room at the Mayflower Hotel where four teenage girls were too excited to sleep, John Dillingers pistol in the basement of the Treasury Building, the dome over curved desks and the biggest card catalogue I had ever seen at the Library of Congress. I learned they kept a copy of every book ever published in this country. It was love at first sight.
Over the years I returned many times: to protest the war in Viet Nam (repeatedly), to do research at the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, the Madison Building, to see the OKeeffe show that inspired some of my first poems (never to be published). The city became my go-to place to get away from my life for a day. I would take an early train down from New York City and visit museums, stroll the Mall, make a pilgrimage to the Viet Nam War Memorial, stop at The Community Bookstore, the good bookstore on Dupont Circle, sleep on a late train back to Penn Station. With each trip, my knowledge of the city grew, as did my love for it. It became my home away from home; I was always looking for excuses to visit. In time, I was fortunate to have friends who live there. I tasted my first Vietnamese food there; I spent the hottest Fourth of July. After 9/11, living as I did a block from the World Trade Center and having fled that morning, I felt a special bond with DC, the sister city that also experienced what New York had. Since moving to Los Angeles it has been harder to get to DC, but I manage. Coming full circle, on my most recent trip, for the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival, I returned to protest the current wars.
As my love for DC deepened over the years, I came to realize my knowledge was limited to the parts of it I could get to easily. So when Kim Roberts asked me to co-edit the DC Places issue of Beltway with her, I welcomed the chance to learn more about a city which had given me so much. Reading the submissions we received opened my eyes to a community that is more varied, more vibrant, more complex than I had imagined. It was a privilege to be invited into this world, and I humbly thank the writers of and about this fabulous city for making an editors work a true pleasure.
From the Editor:
Andrea Carter Brown, who co-edited the DC Places issue with me in 2006, was my first (and to date only) guest editor who has never lived in DC. This issue was also the only themed issue open to submissions from anyone anywhere in the US, and I used the wider eligibility as an excuse to bring Andrea on for one important reason: she is the most talented editor I know, and I wanted to learn from her. Andrea traveled from Los Angeles to Washington to work on this issue with me, and I am eternally grateful for her expertise. In addition, she contributed a terrific essay on former US Poet Laureate Mona Van Duyn for the Profiles Issue in Winter 2006, which Dan Vera recently linked back to in his US Poets Laureate Issue. Andrea has a rigorous intellect, and being around her is incredibly stimulatingand fun. The poems below are from a collection-in-progress, September 12, about her experiences living one block from the World Trade Center at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
From the get-go, we knew it had to go;
we just couldnt understand why it took
so long. Having survived that day, there
it stood, a charred, blasted husk, boarded
up, from top to bottom shrouded in black
netting, with a ten-story-tall American flag
suspended from the side facing Ground Zero.
Every time a breeze stirred, which was often
in those wind-swept canyons, we shuddered
to think what was in those wisps emanating
from its guts: poisons pulverized too fine
to detect or, even worse, human remains
too fragmentary to be identified. Undertakers
invented a new kind of coffinwith a trapdoor
at ground level to receive bits of bone released
by the coroner later. Can you imagine: not one,
but repeated burials? Would nothing be better?
Probably not. After they reopened Liberty Street,
I still avoided walking that way to and from
our home, even though every alternative route
took me over a mile out of the way. Tourists
flocked to pay homage; they pressed against
the fence, they peered into the pit, watching
dump trucks come and go: try as they might,
it was hard to see anything but a construction
site. So they bought snapshots and postcards
of the towers hawked by Chinese immigrants
who couldnt speak English standing silently
at street corners, their wares laid out on cut
off cardboard boxes hanging at their waists.
Through it all, the dark shell of the bank looms,
spewing its toxic dust unchecked. Labor disputes
follow on insurance shenanigans. The authorities
finally agree to take it down, using dismantle
instead. Work barely begun, they find another
seven hundred remains on the roof. Work halts;
months later resumes. The following spring
a twenty-two foot water pipe drops, piercing
the newly rebuilt firehouse that was crushed
when the towers fell. Now, a five alarm blaze:
a standpipe valve closed, steel fire doors shut,
two more firefighters die. Call them, we hope,
the last victims of 9/11. Amend the final tally
to two thousand nine hundred and seventy seven.
That is just the dead. Then there are the rest of us.
AT THE ATM
We are waiting on line to take out cash
for groceries, dry cleaning. He is wearing
a day-glow lime green wet suit. A flashlight,
gun, hunting knife, and handcuffs dangle
from his belt. His usual business is saving
lives: at sea, in a storm, from ships sinking
in the middle of the night. His boat has docked
in our cove because a year ago a block away
thousands died, and the rest of us were lucky
to escape with our lives. The man is young
enough to be my son, old enough to have
a daughter of his own. We are all terrified
someone will try to kill us again. The bank
tellers we knew so well fled that morning
as the dust cloud rolled through. Not one
came back to work here. We run into them
at unfamiliar branches, breaking into wide
smiles like long-lost friends, then choke up
when, our business done, we have to leave.
May the Coast Guard cutter return to plucking
hapless victims from wind-tossed waves. May
automatic weapons and camouflage fatigues
vanish from our streets. Let the fresh-faced
frogman live to bounce a child on his knee.
LEARNING TO WRITE
Birds find their way by stars, by tiny shifts
in ultraviolet light our eyes are too crude
to distinguish. We cant see infrared either;
we use special goggles to see life at night
to kill it. All week we watch words crawl
across the bottom of our TV screens. Green
bombs explode in darkness almost halfway
around the world, as men, and a few women,
in tanks, toting guns, march across the desert.
Camels and goats graze in the almost empty
distance; herders strip broken-down vehicles
of everything that can be moved and sold. Over
this barren wilderness people are dyingwhere
once bloomed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Once the Hanging Gardens of Babylon bloomed,
lush, fragrant, an oasis thronged with songbirds,
where thick red dust now dyes the sky the shade
of blood. Here, Hammurabi wrote the first laws
like our own and Abraham offered Isaac to God
for sacrifice, if you are Jewish or Christian, and
also, if you are Muslim, Ishmael, who had a say
in his own fate, believing he could have said no.
In Sunday School, in archeology and history
of art courses, this is the Cradle of Civilization,
meaning our own. In this fertile crescent the first
written language was invented, abstract symbols,
triangles and squares pressed into soft mud tablets
to inventory wheat, dates, wine, and olive oil.
To inventory wheat, dates, wine, and olive oil
we learned how to write. Thousands of years
later we still like to fight; why else would we
live like this? Or die for that? In the subway
a few weeks after the towers fell, on the way
back from visiting our ruined home, we saw
a monk in sandals and a hooded burlap sack
tied with rope holding a placard proclaiming,
Religion is the solution. I thought you were
going to strangle him. Religion is not the solution,
you mutter under your breath, It is the problem!
Within two weeks I will be so sick from exposure
to the dust, that we are terrified all over again:
having survived the attack, I still could die.
THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD
Where is the man who sold the best jelly donuts and coffee
you sipped raising a blue Acropolis to your lips? The twin
brothers who arrived in time for lunch hour with hot and cold
heros where Liberty dead ends at the Hudson? The courteous
small-boned Egyptian in white robe and crocheted skullcap
in the parking lot behind the Greek Orthodox shrine whose
bananas and dates you could always count on? How about
the tall, slim, dark brown man with dreadlocks cascading
to his waist who grilled Hebrew National franks to perfection
and knew just the right amount of mustard each knish wanted?
The cinnamon-skinned woman for whose roti people lined up
halfway down Church, the falafel cousins who remembered
how much hot pepper you preferred? Dont forget the farmers
who schlepped up from Cape May twice each week at dawn
to bring us whatever was in season at its peak: last August,
blueberries and white peaches. What about the lanky fellow
who sold green and red and yellow bears and fish and snakes
in plastic sandwich bags with twist ties; his friend, a block
away, who scooped still warm nuts from a copper cauldron
into palm-sized wax paper sacks he twisted at the corners
to close? The couple outside the post office with their neatly
laid out Golden books, the shy Senegalese with briefcases
of watches except in December when they sold Christmas
trees? The Mr. Softee who parked every evening rush hour
by the cemetery to revive the homeward hurrying crowd?
I know none of their names, but I can see their faces clear
as I still see everything from that day as I ride away from
the place we once shared. Where are they now? And how?
Andrea Carter Brown is the author of three books of poems: Domestic Karma (chapbook, Finishing Line Press, 2018), The Disheveled Bed (CavanKerry Press, 2006), and Brook & Rainbow (chapbook, Sow's Ear Press, 2000). She is co-editor, with Margaret B. Ingraham, of the poetry anthology Entering the Real World: VCCA Poets on Mt. San Angelo (Wavertree Press, 2011). Brown is winner of the Rochelle Rattner Memorial Award, the James Dickey Prize from Five Points and the River Styx International Poetry Prize, as well as residency grants from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is an editor for the DC-based press The Word Works, and lives in Los Angeles. To read more by this author: Andrea Carter Brown's Intro to DC Places Issue, Summer 2006.