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Stopping Time

I wish I could make what happened on Sept. 11 unhappen, but we can't do that, of course. So here's a gentle alternative: In this poem, Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska describes a photograph of people falling from the World Trade Center towers.  And because this can't end well, Szymborska decides she won't let it end. This doesn't change anything, but she introduces a pause — a breath — between what is and what's to be.

Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images
A man falls from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001
Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images

Photograph from September 11

by Wislawa Szymborska

They jumped from the burning floors —
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them —
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Wislawa Szymborska, “Photograph from September 11” from Monologue of a Dog. Copyright 2005 by Wislawa Szymborska. Reprinted with permission of Harcourt, Inc.

Source: Monologue of a Dog (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005)