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Upon being asked to write a 9/11 poem, I consulted a recent National Book Award winner.

I stood on the wide beach and asked the ocean for its best advice.

I’m not up to this task, I told my future-poem. What can I possibly say?

But you’ve written about war before, someone said—I think it was me or the poem—

Your great-grandmother, a survivor. Your great-grandfather, lost in the Pacific War.

I tried to outrun the hurricane, I shored up my doors.

How about writing about fathers instead, said my poem, a hard working father, say, driving a taxi every day?

I don’t want to be sad, I said, my father passed away, every father reminds me of him.

I hate you, poem, for wanting to know the truth.

The truth is, I trusted the sky.

Trusted it wouldn’t throw things at us, a bitter god hurling stones.

Remember that story, I said to no one, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson?

The townspeople kill one of their own.

And remember the Canada geese incident? I said again to no one.

Some officials thought geese caused the plane crash in the Hudson.

Some officials gassed all the geese.

One day the lake was quiet.

What is wrong with you, I said, confusing my pronouns.

We’re talking about people, not geese, not gas, not, geez, where were we?

gas chambers—flight—falling—

And the poem said, how will you make sense of geese and fathers and planes?

Why not, while you’re at it, mention how boys called you chink on the playground?

Poem, you are a fucking mess, I said.

Oh no, I’m beautiful, it said, I’m the truest thing you’ve said for days.

Come see April Heck along with poets Natalie Diaz, R.A. Villanueva, and Ocean Vuong read at the AAWW this Thursday, November 21 at 7pm. Read two poems by R.A. Villanueva published in The Margins.

April Naoko Heck was born in Tokyo and relocated with her family to the U.S. when she was seven. A Kundiman Fellow, she has been awarded residencies from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Vermont Studio Center. She is the author of Nuclear Family, her first collection of poems. She works for the NYU Creative Writing Program and lives in Brooklyn.

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