When I wrote for the Heroes

I write poetry. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s even pretty good. Then there are the other times…

I tell people that there are days when I sit down to write a poem, and it’s okay. Sometimes pretty decent. There are other days when I sit down and WORK on a poem. Fight for it, syllable by syllable, line by line, dripping sweat and anger onto the page to make it happen.

And then there are days—O gods of the holy Words—then there are days when The Muse comes up and smacks you with a two-by-four and it comes out your hand like thunder and glory. Those days are what I live for. Days when it doesn’t matter where you are and what’s going on around you. Because the space in your head is like that sudden silence in the X-Wing when Obi-Wan’s spirit says “Use the Force, Luke,” and you can do no wrong.

This was one of those. It was the end of December, 2001, after the fall of the Towers. The company I worked for had people in those towers. I had been born not far from that site. I was invested in that place on a personal level as well as that of a citizen of America, and a member of the human race. It was MINE. And that hurt and anger sat in my chest and closed my throat for all those months. Everywhere I turned were stories of the Heroes. The men and women on Flight 93. Those in the Towers that helped others get out first, and never came out themselves. Steve Buscemi, who stopped being an actor and went back home to be a fireman because that’s what a hero does. The men and women and dogs of the Search and Rescue. The construction workers. Stories like that. And most of all, the first responders of New York: Firemen, Policemen, EMTs, Doctors, Nurses. All Heroes.

It all sat there in my brain and in my heart, while I read Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books, trying to understand what was happening around me. While I read Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, trying to comprehend the aftershocks, the shivers that were still within me. Knowing I had to write it out, had to say something, had to say it in a way that MEANT something, something not trite but true, in a way I had never written before.

There I was, reading The Gift of Fear in the middle of the lunch crush at Burger King. The place was packed; the music was blaring, people were shouting to be heard in their not-so-private conversations, and on the other side of the glass was the play area with kids shrieking and bouncing off the walls and windows.

And The Muse came. And none of that chaos could stop me. The words flowed out of my pen like blood and fire and gold, from start to finish, with never a stop. It was all there, all that I needed to say about them, and not one word was wrong. Except… I sat there and looked at it, and there was one line that didn’t scan, that bothered my sense of symmetry. I tried to fix it, and The Muse smacked me down and said, “Leave that alone! That’s exactly the way it needs to be!” And she was right (of course she was right!), because when the music came later—again, all in a rush—that line flowed as smoothly as all the rest, and that was the line that broke my friend’s heart and made him cry when I sang it for the first time, because I had gotten it right.

I sing this song twice a year at my organization’s events on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. And when they stand and clap and scream for me, I tell them NO. I make them sit again, and I ask if there are any Police officers in the room, or their families, or their support staff. And I ask them to stand. And then I ask if there are Military personnel, Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, EMTs; if their families are there, or their support staff. And I ask them to stand. And I tell the people to look around at those who are standing. I only wrote the words, I tell them. I only sing them. These are the people I wrote about. These are the people I wrote them for. These are the Heroes.

This is for the Heroes. Because this was all I had to give them.

The Watchmen

Every day they wake up
Every day they stand up
Knowing this may be the day
The last day they do –
They are the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen.

Every day they greet their friends,
Salute the warrior in each others’ eyes,
Every day prepare to fight the foe,
Prepare to hold the line –
To be the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen.

Every day they dance with death
Every day they smile and joke
While Death looks on, awaits their turn
Win or lose against a worthy foe –
Being the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen
Honor the banner
Of the Watchmen.

12/29/01 @ Varina Suellen Plonski

Dedicated to those in service to mankind – the U.S. Military, Police, Firefighters, EMTs and Medical personnel, their families, and all their support services, for being the line drawn in the sand.

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