licensed dibrova
The Volunteer
by Suzanne O’Connell

I’m just fine except for the falling paper.
A curtain of scraps falls before my eyes.
An animated river,
A looping waterfall.

I didn’t mention the falling paper
to the nice lady
during my exit interview.
Nor the dark edges around my vision.
I didn’t mention the weight I’ve lost.
Or the sleeping issue,
waking every hour or so,
tangled and sweating.

But I’m fine.
The paper bits I see are small.
They’re not the full sheets
that covered the cars and the streets
of lower Manhattan
like tainted snow,
lifting with each breeze,
before settling back down.

One piece of paper said:
82nd floor, please help me.
I think it was addressed to me.
I found it on a parked Toyota
covered with white powder,
but I was too late to help.
I also couldn’t help the man who
tried to wash the dust out of his hair
when it turned to concrete.
Or the child who asked if there
is Jazzercize in heaven.
I couldn’t help the firefighter, who,
well I can’t go into it.
Or my coworker who was asked to leave
because she began to think she was
with the FBI.

Compared to them,
I’m fine.
if I can get the falling paper to stop,
I’ll be okay.

Originally published in Willow Review.

PHOTO: New York City skyline and  “Tribute in Light,” a public art installation by the Municipal Art Society of New York projected into the sky on September 11th each year, starting in 2002. Photo by Dibrova, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem because there were thousands of volunteers who worked after 9/11. Their hard work, often very traumatic, was frequently overlooked in press accounts. I had the great honor to be one of the mental health volunteers who worked at ground zero. When I worked on site, it was still considered a crime scene and we were instructed that anyone taking a photograph for any reason would be arrested.  Therefore, no photo of me included.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzanne O’Connell’s recently published work can be found in North American Review, Poet Lore, Paterson Literary Review, The Summerset Review, Good Works Review, and Pudding Magazine. She was awarded second place in the Poetry Super Highway poetry contest, 2019, and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She received Honorable Mention in the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize, 2019.  Her two poetry collections, A Prayer For Torn Stockings and What Luck, were published by Garden Oak Press. Visit her at