9/11: Conversations with Eileen SOLT

Morning Friend,

I have Morning Joe on in Tuvia’s dark living room and we are remembering our 9/11 mornings.   Where were you?

I had just finished my first class of the day and as my new 8th graders left the class probably Ray, who sat in the row by the windows, given that I had them in alphabetical order, was off and on to the rest of his day in his new school.

As the last kid disappeared into the hall racing for  period 2  I made my way down the side stairway near my room and into the  main office to empty my mailbox and  take a morning stroll through the office.  For some reason a large school TV had been set up and turned on in at conference area and a few teachers were stopping by, watching a scene at the Twin Towers.  I strolled over as the second plane hit,  chuckling at the absurdity of the scene until it wasn’t absurd as the towers began to crumble.

I didn’t think about Ray then.  I didn’t know that as his dad dropped him off  by the entrance to my classroom, that  he was on his way to work in a tower high above the plaza and we had just watched his tower crumble.

I’m thinking about Ray this morning and every 9/11 since that first one.   I think about his mom and his sister who also made her way into my 8th grade English class years later. And their mom… All sweet people who wake up on this day and remember…

Ray never talked about his loss.  He was out of class for a few days, but not many.  His classmates were gentle but he seemed to continue without any show of emotion and I followed his lead, never asking him directly but checking in with Rick, his guidance counselor and some of his other teachers.  He was a quiet kid who did his work, maintained high grades and had a nice set of friends.  I let him be but I think about him.

Every year after to commemorate the experience I read Billy Collins poem, The Names with my students.


Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.

A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,

And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,

I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,

Then Baxter and Calabro,

Davis and Eberling, names falling into place

As droplets fell through the dark.

Names printed on the ceiling of the night.

Names slipping around a watery bend.

Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.

In the morning, I walked out barefoot

Among thousands of flowers

Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,

And each had a name —

Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal

Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.

Names written in the air

And stitched into the cloth of the day.

A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.

Monogram on a torn shirt,

I see you spelled out on storefront windows

And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.

I say the syllables as I turn a corner —

Kelly and Lee,

Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.

When I peer into the woods,

I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden

As in a puzzle concocted for children.

Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,

Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,

Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.

Names written in the pale sky.

Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.

Names silent in stone

Or cried out behind a door.

Names blown over the earth and out to sea.

In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.

A boy on a lake lifts his oars.

A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,

And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —

Vanacore and Wallace,

(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)

Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.

Names etched on the head of a pin.

One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.

A blue name needled into the skin.

Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,

The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.

Alphabet of names in a green field.

Names in the small tracks of birds.

Names lifted from a hat

Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.

Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.

So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.


As I read the poem aloud I whispered Ray’s last name  near its end.

What is he doing today?

Categories: Conversations with Eileen, SOLSC 2012 | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “9/11: Conversations with Eileen SOLT

  1. carol dyer

    This is a beautiful post and I too rmember being in my school when this all unfolded…so shocking and so sad. As we went on and learned about all of the people we lost and how many people we know who were victims it is still overwhemlming to me today. I can neve forget.

  2. Sadly beautiful. We all have those kids we remember and wonder how they are doing. I love that you add his name to the end of Collins poem. I’m sure Collins would be honored…

  3. We all have the thoughts of that day, don’t we? I love that you read the poem to your students. Those 8th graders today were toddlers & that day is history to them, perhaps personal if they have a direct link, but mostly history. Thanks for sharing your story, Bonnie.

  4. So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
    Beuatiful. I always wake up with a heavy heart on this day, even before I’ve registered the date. Thanks for sharing Ray’s story – some of my own kids’ friends lost parents that day – they were so young and I always wondered how they would continue to cope, their day of mourning is such a public one in which so many others participate.

  5. The names make it more than a historic event. What a great poem, and post, to remind us of the personal nature of this national tragedy.

  6. I’ve never read “The Names” before. I’m so glad you shared it with me. It’s going to be a poem I tuck in my pocket every September 11th.

    • My kids wrote to that poem as well. THey took a line and wrote…and then I reread the poem and they added their words to Billy’s. They always thanked me for the time we spent. Pearl River was hit hard on 9/11 given all the firemen/police and commuters.

  7. You gave me chills as I read and remembered where I was and what I was doing, so far away from the tragedy. What a sad but powerful poem. Now, I will think of your Ray on 9/11. Thanks for sharing this today.

  8. I’d never heard that poem before. It is so important to remember not just “the victims”… but that each one has a name. I pointed that out to my sons as we visited the Vietnam Memorial this Labor day. Each name is a family changed forever.

  9. Beautiful poem, every name, so important. Thank you for sharing your experience. xo

  10. An amazing poem that reminds us that the victims include the relatives, co-workers and friends of the deceased.

  11. Ray, I’ll remember him. Thanks for sharing

  12. Thank you for sharing the poem and your poignant memory of the day. Somehow, writing about Ray honored his loss and sacrifice.

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