The first time I visited The Wall, the Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington, I was overwhelmed by the power of all those names, each name a life lost. But each name also a life honored and remembered. I think that’s one impulse of poetry: to name what passes, trying to hold it in our hearts a little longer.
The opening line of “November 11” came into my head on Veterans Day in 2004 complete with that grandiose “O” and exclamation point. I was driving to the gym, thinking what I have often thought: “Wow, it’s all creation and destruction at the same time, every moment.” As I was working on the poem and started naming, I found I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to fix those people in memory. But I soon saw what an impossible task that was; there were — are — too many dead. That’s partly what the poem is about. The rain is for me the astonishing dailiness of all this death, so much of it from war and violence.
I used some Iraqi women’s names because that’s what I thought about, the women there who were dying and losing their loved ones. And the four American soldiers were listed in the San Francisco Chronicle that day, part of the ongoing body count. The exclamation points are meant to be both sincere and ironic, just as the rain becomes both the beauty of being alive and the continuation of all of our forms of ignorance.
~ Kim Addonizio, poet, in the Washington Post
NOVEMBER 11 — 2004 by Kim Addonizio
O everyone’s dead and the rain today is marvelous!
I drive to the gym, the streets are slick,
everyone’s using their wipers, people are walking
with their shoulders hunched, wearing hoods
or holding up umbrellas, of course, of course,
it’s all to be expected — fantastic!
My mother’s friend Annie, her funeral’s today!
The writer Iris Chang, she just shot herself!
And Arafat, he’s dead, too! The doctors refuse
to say what killed him, his wife is fighting
with the Palestinians over his millions, the parking lot
of the gym is filled with muddy puddles!
I run 4.3 m.p.h. on the treadmill, and they’re dead
in Baghdad and Fallujah, Mosul and Samarra and Latifiya —
Nadia and Surayah, Nahla and Hoda and Noor,
their husbands and cousins and brothers —
dead in their own neighborhoods! Imagine!
Marine Staff Sgt. David G. Ries, 29, Clark, WA.: killed!
Army Spc. Quoc Binh Tran, 26, Mission Viejo, CA: killed,
Army Spc. Bryan L. Freeman, 31, Lumberton, NJ — same deal!
Marine Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Larn, 22, NY, you guessed it!
O I could go on and on, for as long as I live!
In Africa, too, they’ve been starved and macheted!
The morning paper said the Serbs apologized
for Srebrenica, 7,800 Muslims murdered in 1995,
I know it’s old news, but hey, they’re still dead!
I almost forgot my neighbor’s niece, 16 and puking in
Kaiser Emergency, the cause a big mystery
until the autopsy — toxic shock syndrome,
of all things — I thought that was history, too,
but I guess girls are still dying; who knew! I run
for two miles, my knees hurt, and my shins,
I step off and stretch for a bit, I go back outside
into the rain, it feels chilly and good, it goes on
all day, unending and glorious, falling and filling
the roof-gutters, flooding the low-lying roads.
Kim opens her reading with “November 11 — 2004” in the following video: