Note—Twenty years after America’s most traumatic experience the memory of the 9/11 attacks is everywhere—news specials and documentaries all over broadcast and cable, newspaper front pages, special commemorative magazines at the grocery check-out, made-for-TV movies, new books both serious and refloating conspiracy theories. Today there will be live coverage of memorial services at the site of the Twin Towers in New York, at the Pentagon, in a Pennsylvania field, and in cities and towns across the country. Witnesses, survivors, and family members will be interviewed. Pundits will try and find meaning and too often echo old, discredited conclusions. Not just a calendar milestone, the event is made more poignant by the chaotic end the War in Afghanistan that was heedlessly launched in revenge. Today I share the version of an annual rant and poetry as it appeared one years ago. It still seems all to apt.
There is no escaping it. A scab is pulled off a barely healed wound. Opportunists and con men scramble to once again jump to wrong conclusions, scapegoat strawmen, and bend the occasion to serve their ambitions and blood lust.
I dread it every year. But it will not leave me or, I suspect, any of us alone.
But as horrible as those images etched indelibly in my mind are, is it wrong to say that I miss the days just after? Remember? For a little while Americans loved each other, found comfort in each other’s arms. Divisions melted. We were united by grief, and yes, even some righteous anger. Even the world mourned for us. Some of us even dared hope that the sense of oneness, community, and solidarity could change us. Maybe even last.
Of course it didn’t. Weeks went by and we went charging off in different directions—drumming up wars on people who had nothing to do with the attack, cooking up wild conspiracy theories that confirmed our own personal demons and loathing’s, scapegoating the convenient and the weak, attacking the patriotism of anyone who did not wear a flag pin 24 hours a day.
And now, multiple wars later, a Depression, the election of a Black President then his replacement with a malignant narcissist and common charlatan, the ascent of a kind of political madness, the rise of entitled oligarchy, immigration panic and the rise of fascist White nationalism Americans hate each other. Really hate. Can’t stand to talk with each other, be in the same room, breath the same air. Rage is the order of the day. White men strut through malls and fast food emporiums with military style weapons slung over their shoulder daring anyone to look cross eyed at them and in their heart of hearts hoping that someone will challenge them. Looking for any spark to set off a Civil War.
20 years later America is shattered and American despise each other.
Black kids who look like they could be trouble are pumped full of holes with monotonous regularity. Half-starved immigrant children are torn from their parents, caged, and brutalized. In some churches, mosques, and temples hate thy neighbor is the daily message. We are sliced and diced apart every which way—by race, language, religion, politics, age, gender, and who we choose to love.
The once revered first responder heroes of 9/11 have been transformed into greedy union thugs by politicians. Police departments have been transformed from serve and protect into little armies to quash the slightest suggestion of unrest or dissent.
Women and their health have become more than ever political plaything, and the objects of Great Lie campaigns worthy of anything by Goebbels. Transgender humans have become prey righteous hunters.
Guns still don’t kill people—the increasing mounds of bodies are felled by some kind of mysterious magic.
We struggle through the Coronavirus pandemic with hundreds of thousands dead due to feckless disregard for human life and simple precautions like wearing masks have become political flash points in which store clerks are murdered for doing their jobs.
So much for my rant.
Looking back, I have grappled with 9/11 in my poetry more than any other single subject. And how that poetry evolved speaks to what has happened to us.
Photos of the dead and missing in New York posted on a makeshift memorial wall.
The first one was written for a one year anniversary program and included in my collection We Build Temples in the Heart in 2004.
The Dead of 9/11 Leave a Message on George W’s Voice Mail
The Dead cry out—
It is not lonely here!
They come by the scores
and by the thousands
as they have always come,
each arrival here
a wrenching loss below.
They come as they have always come,
each death the completion of a journey,
the closing of a hoop of life.
And we welcome each of them.
But we are not lonely here.
We do not wander silent corridors
our footsteps echoing,
yearning for a voice.
We are not lonely
for we are the Dead
and we are everywhere
united in that last breath
and in eternity.
You make haste to fill the unfillable,
to send us more,
out of their own time
as we were out of ours,
yanked here in violence and hatred.
Let them be.
They will come in their own time.
We who know death
do not cry out for revenge.
We are not lonely here.
In 2007 came one of those serendipitous coming together of calendar occasions
September 12, 2007
The Day After 9/11—Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah
Wheels turning within wheels—
gears in some fantastic machine,
Today, just today—
Point A on Wheel X, spinning urgently,
comes to kiss Point B on Wheel Y,
rotating on its own good time,
for just a nano-second
having just brushed by
Point C on cog Z.
These precise events will come again,
you do the math if you wish.
But if I wore stars on a pointed hat,
I might conclude that there was something
beyond mere physics at work here.
Call it an omen, if you wish,
or the flat hand of something Greater
slapping us up side our
merely mortal heads
and scolding us—
“Spin as you will,
you spin not alone.”
On the tenth anniversary I was moved by reading that the dust from the Twin Towers was still orbiting the stratosphere and slowly, year by year, falling to earth.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
September 9, 2011, Crystal Lake, Illinois
The ash and dust, they say,
rose as high as the skirts
of the ionosphere.
Prevailing winds pushed it
across oceans and around the world.
Most has sifted by now to the earth.
Some orbits still,
now and again.
My study is a cluttered mess.
Dust lays on any unattended
makes webs in corners,
balls in computer wire rat nests,
devils under bookshelves.
That speck, that one there,
the one by the stapler,
just might be what’s left
of the Dominican cleaner
who left her children
with their Abuela
and went to work
in the sky
only to be vaporized.
It is an honor to meet you.
Nine years ago I recalled that 9/11 was etched in the memories of Chileans as the date of their own national catastrophe—the 1973 coup d’état that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and ushered in a brutal dictatorship. The United States government was more than just complicit in that.
September 11, 2013
I’ll ante my 3,000 vaporized on a crystal morning.
You’ll see me your 3,000 homeless ghosts.
I’ll give you my crumbling Towers and billowing ash.
You will call with the bombed rubble of La Moneda .
I’ll throw in a stack of terrorists with beards and turbans.
You’ll count out freckled faces, crew cuts, and black fedoras.
Let’s show our cards and see who loses.
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