Today I went with my dad to see the "Heroes Among Us" traveling art gallery at Lloyd Center in Portland.

"Heroes Among Us" is an exhibit of comic-book art inspired by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. Some of the art was pretty interesting, even touching. Recurrent themes included superheroes thanking emergency personnel or even deferring to them. Of course, it wasn't the art that will leave a lasting impression on me.

Wandering through the exhibit, one comes inevitably to it. It's at the end of a long wall of photos of rescue personnel. You know what it is from far away. Twisted, burnt, warped metal. It emmanates menace from across the room. A girder from the World Trade Center.

It's been transformed into a small memorial, festooned with drooping flowers... it looks more like a parade float... it even has mardi-gras style plastic beads on it, for some perverse reason, from the Chinook Winds Casino. Smaller, more meaningful memorials adorn it, too: a heart necklace, peace stickers... but no decorations can cover or negate the pain and terror that have forever been associated with the twisted wreckage.

I touched it and smelled my hands (rust)- felt the amazing toughness of the steel... I pulled a sliver of aluminum off of a fragment of the outer shell of the building, was going to take it home, but placed it back.

The whole thing looked like some sort of modern sculpture. A soaring bird was the first image that came to mind, somehow.

I thought of it as a metaphor. Gaudily decorated, in the heart of the largest mall in Oregon, yet still powerful. Dead flowers and plastic beads and burnt steel.

...I hope the true America can pull through.