After a Testimony by Usman Farman — Robbi Nester

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


From a PBS documentary, Caught In the Crossfire, 2002

I worked in building seven
of the Towers. That day,
I waited for the train
under a sky of sheerest
silk stretched taut, pinned
in the corner by a shadow moon.
When the first plane hit,
I don’t remember hearing it,
just seeing smoke, black
billows sullying that perfect sky.

“Go north,” they told us,
“and do not look back.”
We went five blocks, but
none of us could help
turning to watch the tower fall.
Against that sky, a china
bowl without a crack,
a fifty-story cloud of glass
and dust rose up, pursued us
like a vision born of dream or scripture.

I ran, but soon fell to the ground,
face burning in brown-gray air.
I could not will my legs to move,
but watched the world grow dark.
Then, as though the dust
had taken form,  
a man stood at my side.

He wore the black garb
of Hasidic Jews:  fur hat,
side locks, and beard.
Stooping to scan the amulet
I wore, a prayer in Arabic,
he looked me in the face,
saying, ”Brother, grab my hand.”
I cannot say how long we ran--
it seemed forever, and we
never looked behind.
When I stopped, the man
was gone, and I was safe.

I’ve asked myself why I live.
Anyone can be a messenger.
Survival may rely
on an extended hand.


Robbi Nester is the author of the chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and has published many poems, essays, reviews, and interviews in journals and anthologies. She reviews books for The New York Journal of Books and is an editor on Slippage, a literary magazine of science and the arts. This poem, from Robbi’s new manuscript Together, will also appear in her anthology of poems inspired by NPR and PBS, published by Ninetoes Press and entitled The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! To submit to the anthology, contact Robbi here.

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