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Poetry Corner: FALLING MEN

Introducing a new series of poems by Julian Matthews. Julian is a writer and Pushcart-nominated poet published in The American Journal of Poetry, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Borderless Journal, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Dream Catcher Magazine,  Live Encounters Magazine, Lothlorien Poetry Journal and The New Verse News, among others. He is a mixed-race minority from Malaysia and lived in Ipoh for seven years. Currently based in Petaling Jaya, he is a media trainer and consultant for senior management of multinationals on Effective Media Relations, Social Media and Crisis Communications. He was formerly a journalist with The Star and Nikkei Business Publications Inc


By Julian Matthews

The news clip came with a warning
A crossed-out eye icon: “Sensitive content.
The video may show violent or graphic content”
They needed to freeze-frame it and circle the blur
distant figures in red as if to say:
Here be human beings

Once again it’s proven that men can’t fly
In Kabul or Saigon or New York
The lesson of Icarus is Greek to us all,
even to the literate
History repeated, men defeated

Pilots, like leaders, can destroy, or save the day
It’s all perspective. It’s either a cape, or another caper
No escape for the escapee
No refuge for the refugee
But there are no heroes here, just the quiet desperation
of silhouettes in mid-air, human beings
now crumpled, nameless bodies on the tarmac

A host on a Zoom open mic once welcomed me
as a poet from the “Far East”
I suppose it could have been worse.
He could have said Oriental or Third World
Or used the blanket term Asian
Maybe I should embrace the fact I am not just from a single nation but am continental –
“more expensive, better engineered, luxury branded”
But Asian nor African aren’t terms associated with “continental” are they?
Better a continent than incontinent, I say

I am reminded of the photo of The Falling Man of 9/11,
the sharp, focused outline of another human being
in mid-air against the stark backdrop of black and white vertical lines
of the soon-to-collapse Twin Towers
Uncertainty of who he was still hangs in the air
They say he may have been a staff at Windows
of the World, a restaurant in the North Tower

The body was never found
Amid the ash and ashen all is grey
Sometimes the lens of red, white and blue is blurry, unfocused
We know how we got here, we just don’t know how we’re gonna leave
It’s all perspective. There are no heroes here.

We look out through our own windows of the world now
We zoom in and zoom out, muting and unmuting each other,
depending on who’s the host, the pilot, the leader
Sometimes the meetings are recorded, sometimes not
Sometimes people are focused, clear
Sometimes they are blur, or cracking up
Sometimes they are quiet, grieving
Sometimes people fall off the screen
And are never heard of again

In the virtual world, it’s easy to click “Leave” and just go
In the real world, leaving always comes with a price

Note: This was in reaction to United States Armed Forces pulling out of Afghanistan on Aug 30, 2021


First published in The American Journal of Poetry, USA, Jan 2022.

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