By Abriana Jetté
Sayreville, NJ, USA

This summer, I had the honor to serve on a committee created to select the historic appointment of Staten Island’s first Poet Laureate. At the celebration ceremony, Dr. Marguerite Maria Rivas, who now adds the title of Staten Island’s Poet Laureate to her achievements, read selections from her work, many chosen to remind the audience that the suffering and strength caused by 9/11 is still ever-present, especially on the island where 263 residents died that day.

I was in a high school, a Brooklyn public school. It was either first or second period. That afternoon, if your name was called on the loudspeaker, you knew.

It seemed I went to a funeral every weekend, paying respect to a helmet or a glove. Finally, November came around. Cooler air. A settling down. Two months and one day passed. It’s possible we believed things were getting better.  

The morning of November 12, 2001, exactly two months and one day after 9/11, American Airlines flight 587 fell from the sky, crash landing on top of multiple homes in Rockaway, Queens. Again, the funerals. Again, closed caskets.

Most New Yorkers find it is impossible to escape the horror of those days. Anything was possible. Planes were falling from the sky during picture perfect mornings. What could we expect next?

The night of Dr. Rivas’s ceremony, I opened up Amy Lemmon’s fifth collection of poetry, The Miracles. It was not a purposefully planned move. I knew nothing of the book’s content, but that evening its title, promising something extraordinary, beckoned me. 

The Miracles is not about 9/11. It is about suffering. And overcoming. It is about intimacy and failure and loss. And because the speaker is a New Yorker, because the speaker was alive and present and witness to all that transpired in 2001 (and since), 9/11 weaves itself into it all.

Along with thousands of other New Yorkers, on the morning of September 11, the speaker in The Miracles waited for the bus. “M23” sets the scene of being “bound for the East Side, the Stuyvesant Town deli”, though never making it to the store. Instead, at a “friend’s apartment / the TV gave the grainy story over and over.”

The poem does not tell the story. It does not need to. The presumption is that readers already know the story, or some version of the story. What readers don’t know, however, is the speaker’s story, so, in “M23”, readers discover that she will give birth to a daughter in four weeks, and that this daughter will

                                                  …slither wet on my belly
                  turn blue until the nurse turned her pink and laid her
                  on my breast, warm, irretrievable.”

Lemmon’s reflections on motherhood are particularly universal. In the titular poem, The Miracles, readers are told that the daughter, Stella, underwent major surgery when she was nine months old so doctors could “fix her heart with Gore-Tex™, a miracle fiber / that would live in her body the rest of her life.” But the poem doesn’t meditate on the surgery or diagnosis. Instead, the speaker is focused on feeding her child. “Stella was hungry, didn’t // get why she couldn’t nurse. She was hungry, dammit, could smell / the milk.” Confused, scared, helpless, the mother craves to take care. 

Amy Lemmon
But not always. “After Bathing I Smell Smoke” sings the song of a mother in need of a moment, or five, without having to take care of anyone or anything. The first stanza, which spreads sixteen lines, is composed of but one single sentence. The sentence begins with the lament of how the speaker “can rattle the pans while cooking / drop a dish or run the vacuum in the hallway” or do other such chores around the house, and through all of this Stella will play quietly, behave, but the moment the speaker runs “the water and swirls in Epsom salts / and lavender oil”, slides “in with a book and coffee / or just recline[s]”, the daughter starts puttering about, “pilfering” her most “secret journal” or “removing every knife and pair of scissors from their secure places.”

After being reprimanded for playing with matches, the final image of “After Bathing I Smell Smoke” describes the daughter bowing her head into her mother’s kiss. Though fueled by exhaustion, the poem implies that the recluse the speaker yearns for may not ever really happen when she is alone. The final image is one not of taking time away from the world to unwind, but of joining together, fully immersed, in order to love. It is an image not of seclusion, but of forgiveness.

On top of identifying as a mother, the speaker is also a widow. A soulful melancholy permeates descriptions of the husband, who is described as ravenously desirous of the speaker’s body and also a vegetarian. “Pursuit” chronicles the speaker’s fight against succumbing to suffering. In the poem, the speaker confesses: “Grief chases me around the house.”

A lover lost. A mother alone. A city attacked. How do we find the words? The Miracles teaches readers how to grieve through verse. Lemmon turns to form and swift melodic twists, testing the line and its rhyme to full speed. Consider Father’s Day, a sonnet, which begins:

                  The blue pen flows, the gospel radio brays.
                  This day is different from all other days.
                  No mass, no kaddish, everything’s been said.
                  We’ll plant a tree with the kids instead,
                  right near the playground. Now we say Amen.

The moment readers begin to get used to the rhythm of the couplets, Lemmon enjambs the line, and in doing so ends on the lower vowel sound of the dipthong in “playground.” The switch in syntactical melody from high to low signals a turn or an ending to the scene. These tonal expectations are satisfied by the following sentence, “Now we say Amen”, a phrase typically muttered after a completed prayer.

So 9/11 starts off The Miracles, yes, but that is exactly it: just the start. What follows is a passionate, jazz-infused romance, a first born, a trip to the Cloisters, a second born, complications, the death of a father, the doubts of a mother. All the while, Lemmon is a maestro of rhythm, gliding over sounds, establishing relationships and scenes with such accuracy and precision we feel we’ve known this family the entirety of their lives.

"Errant Pastoral" - Read by Amy Lemmon

In “Audacious: An Acrostic”, worn out, the speaker wonders if “mothering...will always be a series of / handings-over, letting others more qualified tend, evaluate, / and teach?” Like the echo of 9/11 in the alleys of downtown Manhattan, the daughter’s medical needs weigh heavy on the mother; even when she is not thinking about them, she is thinking about them. Satisfying its acrostic form, the first letter of every line spells out a message for the reader. What’s the message? “HOPING FOR CHANGE.”

The poem “Discontinued” teaches readers that “music…enhances the taste of food.” I would add that music enhances the line, advancing language from one electrical charge to the next. Lemmon knows this well; The Miracles contains 44 poems and is divided into five sections: Prelude, Fugue, Riff A, Riff B, Coda. Because the father was a musician, fusions of language and rhythm exist on every page. Descriptions of their relationship are met with lyrical beauty, each riff, or memory, a flame. Then a burn.  

When Lemmon describes dancing with her two children she writes:

                                                                …I lose myself
                  in anamnesis, kinesis, pure pleasure of musculature,
                  three bodies moving, mine plus two my body
                  once contained, And this cruddy Queens kitchen

It is easy to get lost in the polysyllabic soundplay of Lemmon’s work, as easy as it is for the speaker to become caught up in the memory of what once was compared to what now is. With her exactitude and command, Lemmon makes language dance. And in those movements, it lifts us, bends us, and stops us in our tracks.

The Miracles tells the story of how one woman gave all the love she had, and how, somehow, perhaps miraculously, within her there is still more, so much more it seems endless. Lemmon opens up the collection with a quote from Psalm 31:21. It reads “Blessed be the Lord; who worked a miracle of unfailing love for me when I was in sore straits (like a city besieged).”

How similar is a mother unable to help her child to a city under attack? Devastatingly similar. Not similar at all. The Miracles lives in this tension.

Lemmon is a skilled formalist who makes difficult metrics seem effortless. Whether she choose form or free-verse, her use of rhyme and meter add an extra layer of tension to narratives that are already riddled with pain.


Amy Lemmon is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Miracles (C&R Press, 2019). Her poems and essays have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Rolling Stone, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Court Green, The Journal, Marginalia, and many other magazines and anthologies. She is Professor and Chairperson of English and Communication Studies at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where she teaches Poetry Writing, creative writing, and creativity studies classes, and co-editor (with Sarah Freligh) of The CDC Poetry Project.

Abriana Jetté


Abriana Jetté is the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling women's poetry anthology 50 Whispers. Her newest poetry anthology, Stay Thirsty Poets - Vol. I, was released in February 2019.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.