WHEN THE DISASTER STRUCK
I was working at home on that grant application I told you about. After months of putting it all together and dealing with the arcana of the Federal forms, I was ready to bag it, but I was past the point of no return and eleven people would have been disappointed.
About ten am, the phone rang. It was Karen with the news. The rest of the day, I watched TV and tried to call my kids and Vivian several times each. The lines were jammed and my e-mails remained unanswered but, after a dozen attempts, my daughter Janet picked up the phone and started to cry. She could see the smoke from her office and the air was turning acrid up at 26th St. but they were out of harm's way. Vivian needed a police pass to get back into her apartment on 12th St.
On Day 2, practically comatose, I got a call from a cousin in California I hadn't heard from in years, walked over to Mount Carmel Church to give blood but they had too many donors and I went home to mull over my options. Guilty about not being in NY and doing something--anything, I went back to work on the grant, rationalizing that the terrorists wanted me out of commission so that, by working, I would defy them in the only way I could. How about that for rationalization? The deadline for the grant was 6pm on Friday and I got it in with two hours to spare.
On Saturday morning, now Day 12, I got up at 6am full of resolve to clean up my disastrous backyard. I took one look at and decided to head for NY on the bus. Janet was at her boyfriend's for the weekend and I had a key to her apartment, so I just went with no calls to anyone, a pair of socks, a toothbrush, a change of underwear and roll of film in my beat up old Olympus. That day, I wandered about Manhattan on foot for most of ten hours soaking up the sounds, sights and smells. After Doylestown, it was like being on another planet. Union Square is like a Fellini movie. I thought the Hari Krishna and other assorted loonies went out of business years ago, but no, there they were, whole platoons of them rattling tambourines with those nutty smiles on their faces and the sun reflecting off their shaven heads.
I walked to the Armory at 26th and Lexington where thousands of posted pictured messages (" Have you seen my son, Estaban Almeiro? He is 24 years old and worked on the 81st floor of Tower1") line the streets, the sidewalks covered with flowers, lit candles, religious medals, prayer cards and pictures of saints. People stand in small clusters speaking softly. A young woman holds a picture of her daughter and speaks to a very WASPy well-dressed older woman who listens attentively. I eavesdrop and hear her say, "My sister. I know she is alive, maybe in some hospital in Jersey -- who knows." The listener remains mute for a moment, then says, " Yes, I'm sure she is alive."
Sunday morning, I call Vivian and tell her I'm in NY. I pick her up at her apartment and we head for the bike path along the river. At Greenwich and Duane, the barricade is up but a hundred yard away, the smoking six story high pile of rubble hits you in the face and in your nostrils. You’ve seen it all week on the TV but it isn't the same; I think of Estaban and wonder where he is in that pile.
David JarretThe shiny twins are fountains of soot.
Their filthy black plumes spread out.
A landscape suddenly whitened, parched like a drought.
There is only a void now, truly a window on the world.
The red white and blue everywhere unfurled.
Where are the dead? A head over here, a leg there. A hand.
The once mighty and proud is nothing but ash and sand.
Citizens gasp in the pall, hearts broken, in prayer, silence, and bitter tears.
War! They shout.
Do not kill us for what we have done, cry the devout.
Ah, we will get you in the mountains. We will turn the tide.
Then we'll live behind rocks til we must no longer hide.
Ah, we will smash your mountains and rocks to dust.
We are but shadows. Chase us if you must.
SLOWLY Linda Banks
Slowly, slowly dust is falling
From the great, gray ostrich plumes above,
Sighing down on the scattering shapes below,
Muffling the sound of their running.
Snow in the wrong season.
SEPTEMBER 11 Sylvia T. Honig
It has been a horrendous couple of weeks since the heinous attack on New York and Washington. The gamut of peoples' emotions seemed to run like this: shock, fear, worry, compassion, sorrow, and now anger.
Last week, signs and American flags were everywhere. Large flags on poles at half mast. In our small town in Pennsylvania, many establishments -- gas stations, cleaners, shops -- had placards saying "God bless America" or "The Land of the Free" and other patriotic platitudes. What really caught my eye was one in front of the ambulance service building reading "New York, you are always in our hearts."
Living here for forty odd years, having moved from the New York area, I had never heard that kind of sentiment. Before September 11, most townspeople would have said, "You wouldn't get me to go into that dangerous city; you can get killed. It's full of criminals, and New Yorkers are very unfriendly people."
New York, you are always in our hearts.
THE ROAD TO WORK, SEPTEMBER 12, 2001 M. J. Aklonis
Vapors rising from a pond
spill onto the road, an eerie
incense marking the onset
of colder times to come.
Windshield wipers brush away
the dew that forms like teardrops
across my window. I drive
this way to work every day
through a park where unsuspecting
deer sometimes leap onto the road
where a few brave daisies still stand
sucking the warmth of the waning
summer sun. Against the radio news
tallying the death toll in New York,
I see sheep grazing near an old barn.
The signposts of yesterday seem unchanged
in my blizzard of unspoken thoughts
yet I've never felt this lost.
THE FRAILTY OF LIFE
Albert M. Honig
We humans spend our time
Surrounding ourselves with buffers.
We resemble the robin protecting her young
From the Marauding Hawk,
A Hawk so hungry it eats not to live
But to glory in Death.
In the woods twin maples rose and touched the sun.
People danced in their shadows below.
Until one day,
A hurricane with strong winds and icy rains
Crashed the maples to the ground.
For years, worms feasted on their roots.
And then frail maple shoots sprouted new leaves.
Inspired by events of Sept. 11, 2001
THE DAY OUR FREEDOM RANG
And when the twilight steals
I know how the lady in the harbor feels...
A tragedy happened here today
A plane flew into the Twins.
Smoke and fire raged untold destruction
As thousands of people ran for their lives.
I sit here with my hands trembling,
Tears rolling down my face, the torch weaving
Can I hold it up much longer?
The terrorists attacks were devastating,
And America suffers with a broken heart.
Liberty watches over those of every culture and background
Who proudly call themselves American.
This country was founded by those searching,
Striving, struggling for freedom,
America is the nation where this is found!
Found in us and our children and our children's children.
Do you really think you can stop us?
You can destroy our buildings,
You can kill our Presidents,
You can torture and murder our people.
You can even destroy Miss Liberty herself
Our Statue, Miss Liberty still stands,
With her heart as blue as the sky
Can she pull our land together?
Ah yes, comes the cry.
For you cannot destroy the fiber
Of which we, Americans, are made.
Holding her torch, showing the way.
The skyline where she stands is altered but
She still represents what we are about.
The red stripe in our flag represents our bonded blood,
Blood that has been shed for all our names.
The white, the purity of mission
To stand free, tall, and proud.
And blue, dreams and goals that will not die
The path was made for us by our forefathers
Men of all heritages and colors.
Each star a composite of all our peoples;
When you hurt but one, we all unite to defend.
As she holds her torch high up to the sky
Remember just what the reason is
That all those innocent people died for.
Let Freedom ring!
Kurt KrumpholzAt first, there is the shock of fresh air as
he emerges from the underworld to
a beautiful September morning.
Walking toward his office on a sidewalk
packed with people he hears first the roar
of jet engines, then the roller coaster
shriek of the crowd, and looking up, sees
a hail of dusty fragments come sailing
toward him as if the moon has exploded,
tossing its frosty brume of sand earthward.
Reluctantly, he turns and runs closing
his eyes upon the shadow figures scrambling
along side him through a ghostly static
much like frozen rain ticking against glass.
After a few blocks he stops to catch
his breath and turns in time to watch
the second tower fall out of the blue,
collapsing into what looks like a cloud
of silt settling in a pool of water.
Someone screams. Staggering bodies turned
white as stone emerge from a gray mist
of crushed bone and concrete. A shower
of office paper tickertape flutters
down around him while uptown his children
play unaware of tall buildings and planes.
Later, at home he repeatedly dials
the same few numbers trying to contact
friends until night falls and he finally
relinquishes the phone. Walking to
the open window he rubs his temples,
doing his best to shake the persistent
images which echo in his mind.
Outside, the night is still and warm. A crescent
moon begins its slow arc across the sky.
In the distance he sees a silver dome
of mercury light stain the horizon,
a column of black smoke rising straight into
a line of flat clouds that move out toward
the Atlantic. Below him, the city breathes.
He can feel it move. Trees sway. Sirens wail.
People cluster on corners. The relentless
pulse of life continues to beat in
its arteries just as it did in Berlin
and Dresden in 1945, beneath
the piles of rubble, within the temples
of broken stones and mortar. But nothing
about his room is the same. The world
around it has changed and he struggles now
beneath the sudden weight of all that
has fallen. There in the deepening
pool of darkness he turns to gather
his children. Holding them close, he bows
his head and labors for words he hopes can
explain all he is no longer stranger to.
ONLY PETER JENNINGS WAS IN CHARGE
When a church goes up in smoke it's like a message from God -- if you believe in God. It's the same message when a covered bridge goes up. I've seen lots of fires in my hellish career. But a covered bridge fire's special. This one's burning in a sulfuric rage, as though Mr. Dante himself passed out the matches. Of course, as fires go it's nothing like what happens when an airliner, engorged with fuel, crashes into a one-hundred-ten story building or two. I've divided my life into two parts. Before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and after. Kind of like the World War Two vet whose life-time calendar is either pre-war or post-war.
It didn't take me long to drive from here to New Jersey after I flipped on CNN and saw the horror in endless replay. No one seemed to know what was happening but the TV anchors. The politicians in Washington had fled into bunkers, the President of the United States went into hiding for ten hours. Only Peter Jennings was in charge.
I let my reporter's instincts take over. I called the city desk at the Daily Badger to let them know another hand was on the way, but all I got was a busy signal. Then I remembered. The Badger's on South Street, less than a mile from where the Twin Towers used to be. As I neared the city, traffic slowed to a crawl, and the Turnpike turned into a kind of automobile graveyard. Far in the distance I saw apocalyptic plumes of smoke slanting skyward. The evil was palpable. What else could be in that smoke but blood, flesh, bone? All the tunnels and bridges into and out of the city were sealed. Somehow, I inched my way up the Hudson to the Tappan Zee and crossed over there, but south of Yonkers I got caught up in a police roadblock, and no matter how much I fulminated and waved my press card, they wouldn't let me into the city. They never even noticed my press card had expired. I tried to get in, I really did.
Fourteen hours later, my nerves shot, I was back in Pennsylvania, hoping to hook up with Simone, my girlfriend, but then I remembered she'd gone to Scranton for a two-day symposium on Channeling, Altered States of Consciousness, and Creative Visualization led by the famous guru Padma Sambhava the Third. Where were these people when we needed them? So I sprawled in front of the TV with a guru called Gilby's and channel-hopped until my eyelids bonded together. I personally knew six of the firefighters who were killed when the South Tower collapsed. And it turns out that the body of my ex-wife's husband never was found. Yancy was some big exec at Cantor Fitzgerald and his office was on the one-hundred-third floor in the North Tower. I bopped Yancy in the nose once. Now I'm sorry I did -- even though he deserved it at the time.
Jeanette de Richemond
thief of self
each soul who meets terror
fused with fear
as terror steals life
from those who breathed
from those who believe
in who they were before
thief of meaning
each mind that hears
a rattle of syllables
as terror destroys understanding
leaving infinity, never-ending
and death, full stop
Twins born of terror
ANTIPATHY AND DESPAIR
Our Delta flight 1700 departed Philadelphia International Airport only twenty minutes late, at about 7:50 AM. Shortly after we were airborne, even before we leveled-off I think, the pilot said, in his well practiced speak-to-the-passengers voice, "It's a great day for flying, folks." Sometime about 10:00 AM we heard the familiar boing, boing, boing followed by a message from the captain. "Due to a traffic control system problem, we are being diverted to Kansas City," he announced in the nationwide, white lie, no doubt, orchestrated by the FAA.
As our plane sat on the tarmac awaiting a gate, many of the passengers called home on cell phones to tell family they were in Kansas City, Mo. rather than Salt Lake City, Utah, the scheduled destination. A young woman near us, who had just ended a call, said her mother had remarked that she was not surprised. Puzzled, we listened to others who had completed their calls to family. Before we entered the exit ramp everyone aboard had a pretty accurate picture of everything that had happened.
In quiet disbelief, people filed up the ramp into the terminal, where they joined other displaced travelers who went about the task of coping in silent confusion. The solemnity of the crowd was both admirable and eerie. Like an anomalous cathedral with sparse, oddly placed pews, without a choir, without music, just occasional announcements on the PA system, the terminal steadily expelled its nervous sojourners into the suburbs of Kansas City as it prepared for an early afternoon lockdown.
In our hotel room, the first look at television images brought the true monstrosity of the hateful attacks to bear on our hearts. In light of the events of that day, cancellation of our western trip, three day captivity in Kansas City, and the subsequent drive home were trivial inconveniences.
Ironically, our grandchildren, thus far, are unable to differentiate between the exploding, collapsing buildings in the news coverage and the familiar computerized graphics seen in TV ads for disaster movies.
Before we left on vacation, it had been suggested that I take a notebook for the purpose of recording details of interesting environs as grist for future story locales. Oddly, many involuntary plot lines, using the disaster as a backdrop, have popped into my mind only to be torn loose and discarded because of guilt feelings and the sensation of being kicked in the gut each time I contemplate the terrible carnage of innocent, helpless people. I am haunted by these thoughts now and maybe always will be.
Feelings of despair, helplessness, and, yes, damaged pride have made it almost impossible to function in a reasonable way. Because I know that is exactly the reaction the terrorists want from every American, I'm determined to end this paralysis, concentrating instead on defiance fueled by unspeakable outrage.