Friends 9/11

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Ed. This poem won the Editor’s Choice Award for The Penwood Review, a poetry publication for writers of faith, Volume 7, Number 2, Fall 2003. Reprinted with the author’s permission in The Hebrew Catholic, #79. Ken is a Catholic playwright, director, producer and poet.

Ken Gaertner

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

On September 11, 2001, Avremel Zelmanowitz, an Orthodox Jew who worked in the World Trade Center, risked his own chance to escape by staying behind to help his close Christian friend and colleague, Ed Beyea, a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. They both died that day.


They fell
as through a vaguely remembered dream,
unconscious of direction,
the structure of space,
incomprehensible in the chaos:
their freed souls,
like the feathers of pigeons
in far flung barns,
floated gingerly in the sub blotting gloom.
Did God, blinded,
search for Himself
in that loud moment?
Did the Christian wheelchair fling
itself upon the commotion,
in a clattering tantrum?
Was its clatter discernible,
Was it necessary that it be discernible?
Or did it disappear as quietly
as a watch discretely dropped
into a shoplifters palm.

As their mingled dust
drifted over the sun-dappled city,
were their souls confused,
seeking an avenue of light?
The Jewish star had wheeled and spun,
hard as concrete one moment,
glowing with grey luminosity,
then was flung in distorted, dusty elongation.
Had silence been penetrated,
or had silence always hidden a brawl
within its shell?

In that moment
when oxygen was fueling nothingness
going separate ways
was found to be impossible.
Gravity had imploded,
direction had flowed together like soup.
this Jew who was last seen
with his hand draped,
like a prayer shawl,
on the Christian shoulder,
floated with his comrade
in their aimless disintegration,
while in that unseen sky,
in whose lucid horizon
is displayed our universe,
their names were being written
upon the endless leaves of eternity.
Star imbedded in Cross,
Cross imbedded in Star,
both being pulled into orbit
towards a destination
in which boundaries were now
defined by the reaches
of this new gravity.

  • You are my witnesses (Is. 43:10)  •  You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)