Twenty-First Century Prelude
How many strange perfect encounters were lost
after the urban volcanoes are smoldering down the block,
after the car from downtown comes through with rubble an inch deep on the top?
To recall conversations that might have clued us in, that did not
to find couples on Broadway still holding hands and wearing dust mask faces,
reading a menu outside a French restaurant -
who would have thought so much courage could emerge from culture shock?
Who would have thought in the most ordinary actions life could resume
that actions can resume, the pharmacy doors close, the doors even lock?
Who would have imagined a spark flying by Liberty's torch,
the uninvited guest rearranging all the furniture, their choice of wild colors
making living rooms in the clouds no longer so unapproachable?
It was a beautiful day, only the sky had changed. Black
sunflower splashes over the clock-slick image that rose above Flatbush Avenue,
both towers raging in consecutive campfire brilliance, shocking.
Already what the subway driver should not have said was -
"You might want to call your office to see if anyone's still there."
The marquee, on credit, read - Welcome to Times Square...
Forecast -- Sunny. High. Near 80... Make a difference in the lives of high
school students... the President calls an apparent terrorist attack...
Broncos defeat Giants 31-20 in Denver...
What to do - What to say - What to think -
Love and persevere, one sign announces. Close
the bridges, close the approachways, close the street.
Stop whatever you're doing - do nothing - take in the view.
From Fruit Street, it still looks like a cloud just passed over the image.
Sit and think, wait until the place hasn't changed.
Wait until the hole has not expanded, not sucked us in -
look forward to a future occasionally - if the hole has not
expanded, if this has not poisoned the hearts of those who witnessed it.
At the Watchtower Building, the careful watch has already been enacted.
Squinting eyes determine the color of hair, shirt style, muscular nervous walk,
who needs to be verified, what the differences are, the signs of intrusion...
Which invisible layers can tell us the story of this image?
News Room workers waiting for televisions, and chewing their lips.
Pentagon diagrams glow from inside all those computer monitors.
Photographers are loading their cameras. Engineers
labor to keep the wire operative. Information continues to expand
through the hole left by the twin towers' collapse.
We've seen the image before - and still don't know the impact. We've seen
the man falling from the Eighty-first Floor. We seen Plane #2
exploding through the South Tower. We've listened for information
in the gaping hole, but the mind cannot swallow it. We've replayed
in stunned resignation Building Seven as it went down in a reposte of dust.
We've cheered the gray-faced deli worker emerging from an early tomb.
We've watched the angry sky-faced sad weeping sick loved woman.
We've been shown the explosions, the heroic sacrifice, the solemn
composure of our most senior generals. We've judged the collective
research and noted who is responsible - but without an English plural
for Who - Who is responsible - how can we account -
the need to look out? How can we say
the space has not changed, the reservoirs of language have not
given us clue how to the start again. Our regular formulas
do nothing to cushion the drop.
We take the dog out for another walk. There is no image in the mosque.
Publicly donated funds flood into Union 1 Fire Stop.
A printed page descends from the air in Brooklyn
someone's email, a lost business recommendation
what to do in the hiccup of chip sales, has been circulating
in the sky for fifteen hours before it returns to earth.
Missing Sue Blair, Missing Arnold Lim
Missing Wesley Mercer, WTC 44 Floor
Missing Nicholas Lassman - brown hair - very thin, worked at E-Speed
Missing Arlene Babakitis, last seen 25th Floor
Elsy Carolina Oscoria, General Telecom, Tower 1, 82nd Floor
Missing George Velasquez, tattoo on left hand says "GV"
If you know the whereabouts of - Any worker from
Windows On The World, please contact -
Tomas Tong, 31 Years Old, worked for -
Aon Employee, 92nd Floor, please call -
Josh Rosenthal, Fiduciary Trust, any information -
Saranya Srinivan, 23 years old, 104th Floor -
White slips plaster the mind.
What has not stopped is our participation.
An urgency arrests the passer by.
Faces outside the Armory Building prepare to live.
As if to look at everything to see anything,
the media lights turn out the night.
The Collective Tissue
Between the shock and the first blast
of painful awakening, confronted by nothingness
we reach for the compassionate dark.
Shrines all over the neighborhood spread their glowing conviction faces
a steady stream of mourners, in silence, with candles
move some vision toward Union Square.
Theater goers, a voice in the crowd only one night later
asking for a ticket; or the steadfast Jew handing over
dry cleaning, defiantly working in the immediate aftermath -
we have this, and what has engulfed the world before -
refugees in their numerous coils of smoke - have been
involved up to their eyelids for ages.
In the fourteen days since this crater has been expanding,
smoking, changing colors, casting doubts on our system
volcanoes of the world haven't changed, only the reminder
public tears have become a daily subway stop.
Anthems and sentiment choking out of countless radios,
the smell of burning iron girders like smoke of senseless talk.
Questioned, repeated, tormented, released, the Facts
have not divulged the story of this hatred.
We are compromised by our use of the null word Evil.
Talk show hosts spread the architect's best thought,
one null word collapses under the weight of another, pancake
follows pancake, a chant of empty phrases, and bombs and horror abroad.
Striving to be born again, in new clothes, an old world
crawls through the hole in the heart, ready to demand its ancient subversions,
harvesting the collective tissue with intolerance, with dread and shock.
There is more to abhor than we ever had before,
There is more to win than we ever knew for sure,
There is more to learn than we ever reached before.
We can sing our broken dreams
We can gain and learn again all over again
what we knew, what we had before.
There are no bagels in the cafe today. A man
slumps above a porcelain urinal and weeps into his arm.
We are reeling in culture shock. How can this happen here?
How can it happen anywhere.
- New York 9/26/01