Andrea Hollander Budy


After it was published, he cursed
his poem, “September 1, 1939,”
its “incurable dishonesty,” as if the worst
infection had taken hold of him
that awful day in some bar
on 52nd Street, New York City,
jotting it out
an ocean away from home,
the world again at war
and all his lines corrupt,
stubbing out a cigarette
in the full ashtray,
trying to match his private voice
to a public good.  

Writing of helplessness
he felt helpless himself.
When he wrote

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do Evil in return,

on the page even truth
felt fraudulent.  He could believe
only in his own failure. 

And yet tonight, the 11th of September 2001,
as I drove home late with my son
on a gravel road halfway across the nation,
a radio commentator read the poem
at the close of a call-in show
meant to help us cope, and I
imagined Auden 62 years before,
picturing the Blitz in his own country,
hunched over his words,
dismissing his puny efforts,
never imagining
my son and me leaning into one
another, hearing in the voice
of the commentator
the poet’s voice,
and needing it.




Crab Disco
(Terry Wright)