“My Sister’s Birthday Is the Day After 9/11” by Christine Potter

Christine Potter


And on it, twenty years after all that dying, I read
about the last person found alive in the rubble of
Ground Zero, a woman who still believes an angel
took her hand and pulled: a rebirth. I wish I could

have given Susan that for a present twenty years
ago, when we finally got email to each other; she
was stuck in Italy, I awake all night in New York,
smelling what we all did when the wind shifted.

I wish I could have said, “It wasn’t an angel truly
but here is someone who lived, for your birthday.”
When our mother died for four months, my sister
sat at her side for my birthday: two late September

nights on the Jersey Shore, my phone of course
ringing the first morning: Mom worse, not wanting
breakfast, not getting up. No, stay down there with
Ken. Who’s to say it’ll be today? She could die with

you stuck in traffic! Or not. Not on your birthday,
though, please. At least have your birthday. The
ocean went about its steady business at my feet as
I gazed out into all that gray: shush, shush, shush.

And so I stayed. Back in New York, my sister’s
friend Joshua arrived to perform all the Bach Cello
Suites so my mother could take peaceful leave of
herself. He kissed her hand when he was done. But

Mom opened her eyes and walked into the kitchen
to eat dinner. How many angels are there in this
story? And how many birthdays? How many bright,
indifferent clouds drift in a wind we cannot see?

from Poets Respond
September 14, 2021


Christine Potter: “September 11th is something that’s maybe too big to catch in a poem. The 20th anniversary commemorations were too hard for me to watch (as a New Yorker especially), but I read about some of them and came across the story of the last survivor pulled from the ruins of the WTC site. My sister’s birthday is September 12th. I was thinking about how all huge historic events affect us one at a time, one by one. And I was thinking about birthdays and the days people die. So I wrote this.” (web)

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