That’s how it was in 2001. I was power-walking the streets of Nyack, passing homes, businesses, a local elementary school. I passed director Jonathan Demme’s house—I’d often see him walking his children to school—and then Helen Hayes’ old mansion, Pretty Penny, on my way back to my apartment, where I’d shower and then head to work. I had on radio headphones, listening to the Imus in the Morning program, and suddenly the reports began to come in. A plane had flown into the Twin Towers. Riveted, I listened to Imus speak live with the well-known local sportscaster, Warner Wolf. Wolf’s apartment had a direct view the World Trade Center, and the second plane hit the towers with Wolf describing it as it happened. The first plane seemed, plausibly, an awful but accidental event; it only took a few moments, however, to realize that two planes meant something almost too sinister and terrible to bear.
Less than an hour south, the horror continued but, almost a zombie by now, I went on to work. At the time, my work happened to be serving as personal assistant to Toni Morrison. Not very much work got done that day; Toni and I watched and listened—transfixed—as things grew worse and worse and worse. Had I been more clear-minded at the time, I would be glad to remember something Toni may have said that now might be helpful in better understanding that tragic day. She later wrote, and published in Vanity Fair, a poem to honor those lost, “The Dead of September 11 (2001).” I went on to write three poems about the subject, including one that first appeared in the anthology September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond (published by Etruscan Press and edited by William Heyen).
Poetry has many purposes; one is to honor. Here are a few snippets from that book:
and God has blessed America
to learn that no one is exempt
the world is one all fear
is one all life all death
Better, I’ll say, to think on where
that travel-weary Samaritan crouches
now, amid what rubble of the world,
faintly calling through the terror. The words
lodge like barbs on my tongue: And who is my neighbor?
“The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.”
I often think of the Luftwaffe
in my sleep,
or the hawks at Laguna,
their shadows crossing the hills around the reservoir,
while the ground squirrels freeze,
motionless, outside their burrows.
“I keep thinking of people in stairwells, and the firemen telling them to keep moving, as they ascend, when the whole thing comes down.”