From my first issue as editor of Harvard Review, this poem by Bruce Bond, written in the days just after 9-11 and added to the issue at the last moment in recognition of the terrible event. It was the first changing of the guard at the journal, and that, combined with the feeling of general cataclysmic upheaval, is reflected in the editorial, which we also reprint below.
The Altars of September
by Bruce Bond
That night she closed her eyes and saw
the trapped birds of voices shatter
against the crumbling walls, like a scene
in a movie replaying the disaster,
lighting up the back of the brain.
With each collapse the glass rose up,
restored, bright with sky, the fist
of God a shadow-plane approaching.
And it felt so distant, the numb
comfort that would bear this image
into the first cold regions of sleep,
the blackboard of the body wet
and REMless, as if those towers
fell still deeper through the floor
of the mind, gone the way of the pill
she took in faith, swallowing the world.
However many nights she clicked
her TV off, its spark of light
dwindling into the clear stone,
it would take time for any shape
slipping through her hands to lie
down in clay or paper, any lip
of paint to redden her brush.
White was its own confession.
She always imagined the distance
between a painting of a day
and the day behind it as a path
that carries us into our lives,
giving us more room, more reason
to move, luring us on and in
like sleep so deep in the body
all we see is of the body.
In time, looking out this way
through the window of her canvas,
every cloud dragging its anchor
becomes a burden of the flesh,
not hers alone, but the skin
of what no solitary gaze
can tear there from heaven’s fire,
what no frame can ever shelter.
Just that morning before she heard
the news, she took the shore drive south,
set up her easel, all the while
an unaccountable strangeness
drawn down over the folding cliffs,
a stillness unlike any day,
the uneasy silence of the skies
that hour tender as an eye.
Editorial, Harvard Review 21 (Fall, 2001)
There have been changes at Harvard Review—new editors, a new look, some new notions—which should have been foremost in our minds as this issue was going to press. Instead, we find ourselves preoccupied with the changes in our larger world, with a numbness that will not go away and a creeping, pervasive anxiety. It seems no time at all now to be talking about fonts. Indeed, there have been days when many of us found it hard to recover any sense of the larger purpose. And, yet, art may be some kind of antidote to terror.
Rereading the issue I was struck by a story in Ted Wolff’s essay about an epiphanic moment he experienced during the Second World War when, as a terrified nineteen-year-old on the way to Okinawa, the image of a Morris Graves painting popped into his head, bringing him a sudden, unlooked-for comfort. Wolff, who has spent a lifetime writing about art, lives in New York City. When I called him to check a final detail we talked a little about what had happened. “Listen,” he said, holding his phone to the window so that I could hear the music coming from across the street. “It’s another fireman’s funeral.”
Bruce Bond’s “The Altars of September” is the only piece in this issue to have been written after September 11th. But several of the pieces here were written in the long shadow of World War Two; still others deal with private battles no less compelling for their more modest scope. Not everything in the issue is grim and some of the grimmest subjects are also funny. Humor makes its appearance in several places, most notably in “Boom and Bust,” a delightfully black story by Tom McGuane about the warping of familial bonds. We have essays that are part-memoir on Vladimir Nabokov and James Merrill, an introduction to Marcel Reich-Ranicki and a tribute to the painter Morris Graves. The poetry, edited by Don Share, covers a remarkably wide range of poetic sensibilities and includes, among its highlights, an eight-page poem by Ray DiPalma. Finally, in this issue we begin a regular feature: the publication of short plays, starting with two previously unpublished pieces by David Mamet that are nothing if not fun to read.
So, with this we launch an new era at Harvard Review, under a new banner but in the same spirit, with due regard for the achievement of Stratis Haviaras, founder and editor from 1992 to 2001, and with cautious optimism for the future not only of the magazine but of the world.