“God’s drifting in heaven / Devil’s in the mailbox”

Eleven years ago, September 11 became September 11.

Each year since then, the commemorations have taken place early during fall semester, and I’ve drawn attention to at least one poetic response to 9/11 for my Intro to Lit classes. Here’s a recording I made for one online group a couple of years ago, the lyrics in Bruce Springsteen’s song “You’re Missing”:

In our discussions, students posted thoughts that were both emotionally and poetically perceptive. A few examples:

I was thinking this is about God not being around while the crisis was happening, this house is empty, everything is there, but he is missing.  Then another part of the lyrics says, “Too much room in my bed, too many phone calls,” so maybe a husband/father died and the woman’s bed is empty without him and she is having to call the rest of the family.

When Springsteen says, “God’s drifting in heaven, and devil’s in the mail box,” I think maybe he is saying God’s at a loss, mourning, and the devil is there waiting for everyone to doubt in God.

In the midst of tragedy, people wonder if whatever they did in their life was deserving to lose a loved one, such pain and sorrow. The devil in the mailbox means that the hate and anger of losing someone is sweeping in along with the sorrow. It’s easy to fill with hate and question God when such a presence of evil has taken over.

Don’t forget that in the weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers, letters with anthrax were sent to news organizations and politicians. People were killed and sickened, and mail from strangers made us nervous back then even if we weren’t the kind of people being targeted. That mailbox is a really creative detail for Springsteen to include.  The song about a specific historical moment, full of specific details about a family and a home.  But he’s done it, including the devil and the mailbox, so that it could be about any family in a grievous, terrified situation. 

That’s a pretty remarkable talent, the way he writes for one moment and for all time at once.

Yes it is. Hear for yourself:

(My reading of Springsteen’s lyrics was originally posted at my old blog, A Poetry Feed.)

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