Return to Poetry

Photo in Time

September 2001


Probably everyone who writes poetry wrote their own 9/11 poem. I wrote this poem about a photograph that took up residence in my head. At the time I didn’t know that the photo would become famous, and that the person in it would be identified. I simply wrote about it as I first saw it.


The strangest thing was this:
that a photographer caught you
in mid-fall, arrow-head first,
arms crossed over your chest
as though you had arranged
yourself for your own coffin.
Did you determine that you
would die with dignity, even though
no one – you thought – would know
that you fell, not flailing, not screaming,
but arms crossed over your chest,
eyes closed?
Did you fall accidentally
into the frame as he shot
the big picture? Or was he hunting
and snared you with the invisible net
of his wide-angle lens?
When he sold your photo,
did he think of the woman who loves you,
who has stared at your face
till her mind is numb
from trying to enter
those moments between
whatever horror forced you to choose,
and this end slamming up to meet you –
memories rushing through you like wind,
the twitch of her eyebrow, your child kissing you
sloppily on the cheek, the window seat
where you sat and listened to Mozart.
Or could it have been
one last astonishing
adrenalin rush?
The woman who loves you hopes so.
She tells your child, “Maybe it was like
diving off the highest board
into the deepest water.”
a heady brew, Inkweed, 2005