World Trade Center / Mail Runner / 73


There was no languor, no drowsy trade winds,
or stoned-out stupor of lapping waves,

only news, the big board of crime,
corporate raiding, selling short and long.

It didn’’t matter, I was no Ishmael.
I just hovered there in the thick of the material–—

at the edge of a skyline of money,
rising in a glass box.

It was comic to think Bachelard believed elevators
had destroyed the heroism of stair-climbing.

In the rush of soaring metallic, past the whiff of four-martini lunches,
up gearless traction in transparency,

waves of cool air coming from the vents.
At the 85th in a sky lobby we stalled out and the sun

flooded the glass/the river/the cliffs
Jersey was just gouache and platinum coming apart—–
a glistening smudge

and some nagging line from Roethke I’’d been reading–
circulating the air:
““It will come again. Be Still. Wait.””





About Peter Balakian

Peter Balakian is the author of six books of poems, most recently Ziggurat (University of Chicago Press 2010). His other books include June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2000, and Black Dog of Fate, which won the PEN/Albrand Prize for memoir. Balakian’s prizes and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His work has been published widely in American magazines and journals, such as The NationThe New Republic, Partisan ReviewPoetry, and Art In America. Balakian has appeared on national television and radio programs, such as “ABC World News Tonight,” “The Charlie Rose Show,” “Fresh Air”; NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” CNN, and Leonard Lopate’s WNYC. He teaches at Colgate University.

In the late ’60s and ’70s, Balakian, a New Jersey native, worked as a mail runner in downtown Manhattan inside and around the World Trade Center. In his most recent poetry collection, Ziggurat, the author wrestles with the reverberations of 9/11 through a lens of personal memory, history, and myth. You can hear Balakian read from Ziggurat and discuss his recollections of the Towers in this NPR interview. For more information about Peter Balakian and his work, please visit his website.


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“World Trade Center / Mail Runner / 73” © Peter Balakian. This poem originally appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review and was reprinted with permission by the author. “World Trade Center / Mail Runner / 73” appears in Balakian’s most recent collection Ziggurat, available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle editions.