When my daughter was young, a teacher once asked her where her family came from. She said she really wasn’t sure but thought it might be England (which was, indeed, where two of her great-grandfathers came from). But she did tell her teacher what she knew for sure: that her mom always wished she was French.
Clearly my love of France has added to the heartbreak I feel over these hideous attacks in Paris. But I’m also reminded of 9/11, when for weeks my eyes would well up with tears every time I opened my front door and left my home for the streets of my poor wounded city. During those weeks I carried a poem with me that the New Yorker ran the week after the Twin Towers fell. And I’ve found myself reaching for it again now as I look for something to hold on to in a world that, at this moment, has simply stopped making sense. I share it here because I also feel the need to open my door and join the world in all its grief and majesty.
TRY TO PRAISE THE MUTILATED WORLD
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes