Edward Dougherty

Dizzying Work

Time stood a while for those on The Hill,
a location more in the mind
than its location on Staten Island.
We were all watching The Pile back in Manhattan,
the smoking ruin, the national crime scene,
taken apart with acetylene torches
and hauled away until it went underground,
and it was a hole again, a place not-there.
Where did all that once was
the Twin Towers, that was the whole World
Trade Center complex,
that once was Ground Zero, once was, once was…
where did those trucks rumble off to
once they climbed that ramp
back up to street level from that depth?

All through the remaining fall, all through the winter,
truckload after truckload came to Fresh Kills,
to people whose job meant pulling on
respirators and protective white clothes,
fill sifting machines
and then hour after hour witness
the rubble, the gray debris, tumble by
on never-stopping conveyor belts.
All that motion,
watching all that passing. The material
always passing. Dizzying work.
Anything that might be
something—a Gap bag, an insurance card,
a Fossil watch, a charred sleeve of slides,
—was plucked up out the stream
and placed in black buckets.

Site supervisor James Luongo said,
You have to be able to look at something
and not see it. A clump of hair.
A thigh bone. The hand,
its nails manicured. A ceremonial silence
emerged within the machine noise.
Remains were brought
to the refrigerated trailer,
where the Japanese family had left flowers.

In the early days, just afterwards,
a crushed police car was brought to Fresh Kills,
its radio still broadcasting.
No one dared turn it off.


Edward A. Dougherty is a poet who earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University and has published 3 collections of poetry and five chapbooks. In 2015 he published Everyday Objects (Plan View) and House of Green Water (FootHills Publishing). He has contributed to many publications, as poetry editor at the Mid-American Review and as a contributing editor at the Alehouse Review, Third Wednesday, and Rowboat: Poetry in Translation. In addition to poetry, Edward’s essays and reviews have appeared in the Cincinnati Review, North American Review, and War, Literature, and the Arts. His essay about learning the craft of poetry (and crafting his life for it) was published in Memoir and reprinted in the second edition of The Working Poet (2014, MAMMOTH Books); it’s called “Apprentice Days.”

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