“Here We Are”: Poem for the dedication of the MIT Memorial to Officer Sean Collier

Sean Collier Memorial

In March, Gayle Gallagher asked me if I would be interested in writing a poem for the dedication of the Sean Collier Memorial. My immediate response was no, I can’t, I’m not W.H. Auden. Within an instant, I had corrected myself: If some of the students from my Advanced Poetry Workshop were willing to join me, then I was sure we could write a poem collaboratively. I approached the class; half of the students were willing to take the leap. For the next five weeks, during a series of dinners generously funded by the President’s Office, the 10 of us moved from brainstorming to drafting to refining our poem. The process required that we trust each other as well as the collaborative process itself. We were all working in uncharted territory; none of us had ever written a poem for a public occasion; none of us had ever worked with nine co-authors. Every one of us suggested language and ideas that were rejected by the group, and every one of us came up with phrases that persisted into the final draft. We ate a lot of sandwiches, we moved a lot of words around, and we practiced speaking those words from the deep centers of ourselves from which they had come. Together we wrote something none of us could have written alone, becoming, in our determination to address our larger community, a community of writers.

Here We Are
Performed at the dedication of the MIT Memorial to Officer Sean Collier
Wednesday, April 29, 2015 | 12 pm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A convergence of seekers,
servers, speakers, makers.
Alone we carry individual flames;
together we become a radiant constellation
honoring Sean Collier.
For many of us,
Sean was a source of light,
a source of warmth.
He talked to us, hiked with us, danced with us.
He was always among us. He still is.
Take a look around.
We come also to honor the recently lost,
fellow students and friends,
for every loss leaves a void.
Let our private sorrows
become as public as air,
as functional as granite.
The world tells us we are finite,
but our infinite inclinations
will touch mountaintops,
ocean floors, the edge of this world,
and the horizons of human experience.
Here we are not alone.
Here we learned
to hack our way into each other’s hearts.
Together we step out of the shadows,
each of our lives its own light source,
elevating every life we touch.
Two years ago we were sheltering in place;
today we celebrate a place of shelter.
Take a look around.
Open heart. Open mind. Open hand.


Written and performed by

Kaitlin Ahlers ’15
Nikhil Buduma ’16
Valentina Chamorro ’16
Jordan Cotler ’15
Erica Funkhouser, Lecturer, Comparative Media Studies | Writing
Ethan Klein ’15
Herbert Mehnert ’15
Shanasia Sylman ’15
Vivian Tran ’16

Erica Funkhouser

About Erica Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser's book-length poem, Post & Rail, is the recipient of the 2017 Idaho Prize and is due out from Lost Horse Press in March, 2017. She has also published several books of poetry with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her poem on Annie Oakley, "Sure Shot," was adapted for the stage and produced by the Helicon Theatre Co. in LA. Another poem on Sacagawea led to her involvement with Ken Burns's PBS documentary on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and other magazines. You will find one of her poems sand-blasted into the wall of the Davis Square subway station in Somerville, MA. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry. Her essay, "One Salt Marsh, One Hawk, One Swimmer," appears in Harvard Review #49. In January of 2017, Musiqa, a new music collective in Houston, debuted "The White Album," by Mark Kilstofte, in which four poems have been set to music. One of them is Funkhouser's "Here," from PURSUIT.