I. September 11, 2001
When I turn on the TV,
I see black smoke
billowing from the North Tower.
It is the first time I felt
all of my senses attune
to a single object
and my mind blanket itself
in thoughtless dark.
My hands do not fidget,
and no words emerge
from the crevices
of my subconscious,
to plume like fires that burst
from shattered windows.
I am distantly aware of screams
into the blank walls around me.
As my mind begins to thaw
with the realization that my building,
the South Tower, was unscathed
the second plane hit.
College life is beginning to set in,
but I know that my life begins
at this moment
and I would meet it
in the position I find myself now.
on my knees.
II. Severed Elevator
I rolled from my bed as the coffin of night
slowly raised its lid.
The sun always hit the windshield dead on,
for five minutes of the drive to the train station.
I parked far from the platform,
because the 6:50 is the third train of the morning.
Michael Asher, Jeremy’s father, also took the 6:50,
also worked in the World Trade Center.
We sat together and talked or slept
through the ride to work.
He spoke to me one morning of abandoned mines
he had explored with his girlfriend in California,
the shafts filled with cold water and the debris
of miner’s lives. That girlfriend became a wife,
that wife a mother of two.
He worked in the north tower, I in the south.
We departed at the foundations of rock and steel
to go to our separate elevators.
We met occasionally on the ride home,
we talked about our jobs
our love of hiking and steaks.
Two weeks after my summer job had ended
I stare at a TV, when I flip the channels
the smoke and fire follow me.
I call Jeremy’s cell phone,
because his father’s tower was hit first.
The answer to my question
is the one hundred and first,
for a company called Cantor Fitzgerald.
The girlfriend is now a widow, and the phone
falls from my hand when a small piece of metal
is replayed in slow motion
crashing into my office.
III. Funeral for a Friend
A week later we are at Adam’s funeral.
His wife is besieged by breast cancer
the growth that will not stop
swallows her complexion,
and her smile.
It is here I meet the friends and coworkers
who are left, and embrace each one
to prove they are still alive.
Adam also made it out of the building,
his was one of the few bodies recovered,
crushed under the rubble outside the front door.
The casket is closed.
At the end of the service music plays above us.
A voice that everyone in the room recognizes
but would never grace the airwaves.
It is Adam’s voice, in the band he led before
the business world stole him away.
His words slowly tear down all the walls
The crowd had erected, all the breakers erode
before the squall of those songs.
There is a dinner after the storm subsides
At some point I notice my father is not at the table.
I walk awkwardly outside, to take a break
from the intensity of dinner eulogies.
I see him by the car, his face is flushed.
I have never hugged anyone as hard as I hug him then.
It is the first time I have ever seen my father cry.
IV. To those who fell from the 84th floor
I lie in bed, rolling from side to side,
staring from wall to ceiling,
unable to blink,
or conjure up any empty space,
because I am afraid.
Not the usual fear of heartbreak or mortality,
but the fear of memory.
The simple act of blinking
floods my sight with faces
a new one every blink, every second of darkness
is someone who burned or fell.
With every blink, and every face,
an eternity flashes forward and I
can’t keep up.
The same people who shared Chinese food
and cubicles make me afraid
to close my eyes.
I lie awake with the lamps on,
but there is no comfort in white walls
and dark windows.
I am waiting for tears while denying they will help.
The memorials are short, but empty caskets fall nightly into the void of my eyelids.
The sun appears through the half drawn blinds
I am sweating
I pull off my covers as if they were the death mask of some decaying pharaoh.
I don’t know how to live anymore
with the knowledge that so many lives have gone unfinished
V. August, 2004
For a while it was hard to take the ferry
past those two holes in the sky.
I was convinced the downtown smog
would avoid that patch of air.
A memory that exists
like the clarity of immediate space
around cars that drive through the night fog.
And now I take the subway,
like walking through a cemetery blindfolded.
The train buckles as if driven on rails of shame and corpses
This concrete hole in the city shivers
it is the womb of modern history
A dream played out on the eyes of a coma patient
Footsteps echo through the nearby office buildings
who have for the first time seen the sun.
What is a fit tribute to the ghosts
who stumble in the dust of public records?
Any park, any place of forget and remembrance calculatingly mixed
serve only as a wilted bouquet in the terminal wing
a reminder of life for that fleeting moment
between a memory of a dead relative
and a drop of moisture pressed from the brain
to the ducts behind the eye.
All around those concrete stumps are the carrion and vultures
VI. Tiny Strings
I am at my most vulnerable falling asleep.
When memories drift like mist over a graveyard,
filling the black closets of thought with
colors and figures I can imagine, but cannot see.
I remember watching a bus burn.
During a clear afternoon in October
I saw one of London’s double-deckers
stop in the middle of the street,
with black smoke rising from its engine.
I saw people scurry out in waves
like rain water from a gutter.
Flames followed the smoke
and I was so awestruck, that it didn’t occur
even if I’d had a phone, to call for help.
The bright red paint darkens on the bottom
and fire fills the windows at the top of the bus
A brightly glowing tumor on Tottenham Court Road.
All of the emergency training that life affords
shimmers between eye blinks and vanishes
somewhat like dead farmers
who capture the fury of tornados in their camcorders
before their homes are sucked into the maelstrom.
I think perhaps we cannot blame those who strive
Who consume themselves in explosion
Maybe we should share the blame
Didn’t we create government to shelter us
from the beauty of panic?
How long is it since we forgot that the world is sewn
with the strings of spider’s silk?