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On the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 a Lot of People are Saying Never Forget

For years now, I’ve dreamed of having a poem in Poetry Northwest. And now that the day has finally come, nearly everything about it is sad. Because my little poem is about Turkey and disaster and lack. And this week Turkey is overwhelmed by disaster and lack as rescue workers continue to pull bodies out of the rubble of an earthquake that has claimed over 17,500 lives, and displaced people burn furniture in the streets to keep from freezing.

In my poem, the disaster is the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center—a nightmarish day on which some 3,000 people were killed in New York City. I was eight years old then, living in the Turkish capital city of Ankara and trying to make sense of the way this catastrophe was changing my life.

In this poem, written 20 years later, I’ve tried to tell the story of the single event that perhaps had the greatest impact on my attitude about cross-cultural relations, patriotism, and jingoism: the day a little boy teased me about 9/11 on our sledding hill, and I marched my little sister home in a huff after taking back all the mittens & gloves I always brought along to share with the children from the slum next to our apartment building. When we left, I was so angry. I always remember that. It was the first warm surge of fierce patriotism I ever felt, and it felt good. But when I got home and hot chocolate was waiting and the Christmas tree was so cozy in the corner of the living room, I could not recapture that feeling. I could think only of the children with their skin all blue and purple and strange in the snow. They were so poor, those children. They had no proper footwear or coats. They wore plastic bags on their hands.

To this day, I think about those children very, very often. The memory of them has kept me time and again from making an enemy of The Other. The memory of them smacks me into the reality that there is no other. There is only us: each one vulnerable, quick to freeze all the way to death if not looked after, and very small.

(This poem appears in the Winter & Spring 2023 issue of Poetry Northwest. You can order a copy here.)

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