Elegy for Oklahoma City (draft)
Even before I enter the “Gates of Time,”
My face reddens and my throat swells,
And I weep for a city I first saw in silhouette
Through an early morning windshield
On a cross-country road-trip one year after
The towering gates measure that eternal moment
Between 9:01 and 9:03 when a bomb blasted a building open,
Carving a gaping hole that remains unfilled into a city’s heart
Even Jesus Christ stands outside of space and time, a statue
Frozen in weeping at the south gate, his stone hands covering his stone face.
Unlike Lot’s wife, punished for her forbidden gaze and sentenced to look at sin forever,
Jesus turns his eyes away from what remains of human assault upon humanity.
At night, clear plastic chairs glow in the dark to light up these excavated ruins,
Re-counting the one-hundred-sixty-eight dead like the white tombstones
At Shiloh or Chickamauga, another graveyard shrine to failed democracy.
On clear nights the reflecting pool mirrors all the stars in heaven,
And downward gazers can see themselves mirrored between two eternities:
the past and our collective memory of the past.
Looking down diverts our gaze from nineteen small chairs that glow like ghosts
Chairs upon which children, most of whom were not yet school age, will never sit.
It was Hawthorne and not Emerson who knew what unifies us in our human-ness:
Not an over soul, but “the sanctity of the human heart.”
Once a year on a late a April morning twenty thousand runners gather,
To keep the rhythm of memory alive by coursing through the arteries
of a wounded city–like blood–running circles around its broken center
As their hearts beat in unison: remember remember remember
The circularity of ritual only barely stitches closed this gash,
Only as sustaining as the runners who cross the finish line whole,
Throbbing and panting, and sweating as if their skin is crying
In unison with our eyes.
Four years ago in Boston, blood and body parts rained down at the finish line.
In Oklahoma that same year, the cold downpour melted into our tears
As every red-socked runner crossed the same threshold—whole,
Symbolically re-membering a leg. A community. A country.
The descendants of Houseman’s athletes dying young…
In this city where to-day
The road all runners come
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Remember… Re-member… Remember…
Will Jesus ever turn around and let us see him weep?