Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Submission, by Amy Waldman

Where were you when JFK was shot? Martin Luther King? Bobby Kennedy? Where were you when Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man?” When Nixon resigned? When the Soviet Union imploded For two generations, these essential “Where were you?” questions were eclipsed by, “Where were you at 9 AM on September 11, 2001?” For Amy Waldman, author of The Submission (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) , she was building up the journalistic skills of a major reporter and the writing chops of the author that she becomes within these pages. As a bureau chief of the South Asia office for the New York Times, she found herself embedded in the conflicting cultures that led the story of  the memorial design competition that led up to the tenth year anniversary. Waldman is enough of a New Yorker that she could capture the view through the eyes of demagogues, widows, and Muslims. The demagogues live behind pen and microphone. The widows have the conscience suit covered deep, and the Muslims? Both the winning designer and an unlikely spokeswoman arise from the American Muslim community, with the twist that this Muslim is also a 9/11 widow.

Claire Burwell holds the lone seat on the memorial selection jury reserved for families of the victims. An Ivy-educated woman of independent means, her husband was very wealthy from his work at Cantor Fitzgerald. The jury added her because she was presumed to serve as a barrier between the artistic taste of the jury and the raw emotion of the other survivors. At the  other end of the spectrum is Sean Gallagher, a handyman living in the basement of his mother’s house in Brooklyn. Sean’s brother Patrick was a firefighter pulverized under the collapsing South Tower. Sean had build a small career being Patrick’s voice from beyond the grave. Mohammed (Mo) Khan, a prominent architect and a secular Muslim, won the anonymous competition with a garden that emerged geometrically from the irrigation canals up to the metal trees made from 9/11 rubble. When a grasping, aggressive journalist from a notorious tabloid discloses the religion of the competition winner, the city falls under another attack, this time from within.

Would the memorial garden ever be built at all?  Gallagher plays his status as the brother of a fallen hero into a speaking career with minor celebrity status, all in the name of preventing a Musilm architect from building an “Islamic garden: as a “martyr’s paradise.” Claire struggles to balance her own integrity with the raging voices of the other families. Mo fights everyone’s attempts to vilify the design by attacking the designer, or more specifically, the religious heritage of the designer. At a crucial moment, Asma, an undocumented Bangladeshi Muslim widow of the attacks, risks all she has to speak her truth at an angry gathering of the families of victims.

Ten years and two wars later, Waldman’s novel, The Submission, tells the story of a nation struggling to affirm the principles that extremists love to hate. The Submission speaks to the morals of a people whose pluralism, tolerance, and understanding were pushed to the brink of collapse by attackers whose main objective was to make the country whose ideology they hate destroy itself from within.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


my palms feel the power of
your breath expanding the sea of
your hips, exhale rippling
your skin like a flying carpet
I cannot feel
your hear in this prayer circle -
does it flex freely
pulsing in harmonics
of breath frequency?
does it radiate,
a healing sun within you?
does it sit in you, neutral,
the waves of breath opening, closing
like sound and light, little changed by
an obstacle in a reflecting pool?
or like mine, does it weigh deeply
in the field of your breath,
absorbing, deadening,
a heat sink wicking away spirit?
bring with me the void
the abscess of dark energy that
burdens us both

this is my prayer

Let me breathe every moment of my pain.
For breath is Godding, and God
Flows even in black holes.

Help me to distinguish between
My ebullient breath,
The diffracting stones,
The absorbing wounds.

Give me wisdom to feel joy
Coursing through me as breath-spirit
And to find suffering's
Event horizon.

May I grow to share breath through our touch.
May I become strong in being Godded,
That, with time, the power of abnegation will change.

the power of abnegation

the power of




this too is breath

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shabbat Tryptich 3

The people knew I would offer my sweet voice
sending our prayers above the currents
wafting heavenward faster than airl
those chosen would grind on, voiced
wobbling in leaden braces, bearing the liturgy like sackcloth.
cain, you got a bad rap.
Would that I could stride in like a doctor, lawyer, or banker
with first fruits of lucre, smoke rising straight heavenward.
Cain offered the strength of his own sinews,
the sacrifice found no favor
I the grace of my own voice
the sacrifice found no favor
God sent an enormous mantis,
wings chartreuse, silky in the spotlight.
swirling in my music, she spun to me
alighted on my cheek.
the offering found favor
I must remember to pray before insects

Shabbat Tryptich 2

I offered the only offering that I have to bring
I offered my voice,not
as a timely man, his-is-good-as-any-man's voice,
a not as good as a woman's voice
but a voice
brings tears to lovers at the huppah,
turns hearts inward in due season
upward just on rime
cut through steel to carry messages,
cut steel hearts to carry pain
a voice that honors the words it shapes
but the offer was not accepted
but the offering was not accepted
Cain, you got a bad rap
your offering was not accepted,
though you brought your best,
but though you offered the fattest lambs
you sacrifice was not accepted.
Our sacrifice was not accepted

Shabbat Tryptich I

I advanced into the silence
to commune with God.
I did not see God I saw Iris.
Or better, spire of iris, violet on cream satin.
Rise spire of violet, seeds of plum
carry my mute soul to these plum eyes,
when gazed upon, by yours, fulfilled.