Posted tagged ‘9/11’

9/11 (Villanelle)

September 11, 2016



The burning buildings woke me from a sleep
of what I thought important, nothing now.
I ran hard down the smoking, crumbling street,

praying that my child was mine to keep,
dear god oh please dear god I whispered loud;
the burning buildings woke me from a sleep.

Some stopped to stare, all of us to weep
as eyes replayed the towers’ brutal bow.
I ran hard down the smoking, crumbling street.

North sky a startling blue, the south a heap
of man-wrought cloud; I pushed against the crowd;
the burning buildings woke me from a sleep.

I’d never complain again, never treat
with trivial despair–or so I vowed.
I ran hard down the smoking, crumbling street.

I’d change, give thanks—I saw them leap—
and begged for all the grace God would allow.
The burning buildings woke me from a sleep;
I ran hard down the smoking, crumbling street.



This is an old poem (approximately 15 years old in fact).  Am posting in memoriam and gratitude too, for the grace that I was allowed that day.

Pic is slightly newer, also mine, al rights reserved. 


A New Yorker’s Sense of Direction – 9/11–9/12 – What helped – Chocolate Chip Cookies

September 10, 2011

When I first moved to New York, I lived on Mott and Houston.  All my prior experience of New York had been situated on the Upper East Side, a perfect grid of numbered streets, famous avenues, Central Park.

Now I was just north of Chinatown and Little Italy, beyond the scope of integers. (For non-New Yorkers, Houston, if numbered, would be approximately zero street.  The island goes on about for hundred or so blocks south.)

But who knew from south?  Or north?  Uptown/downtown?

How, when I came out of the subway, and hardly knew right from left, could I find my way anyhere?  Even home?

A friend clued me in.  Look for the twin towers.  Way downtown.  Anywhere else was up.

And there they were.  Always to be found.  Gleaming silver through blue, haze, cloudscape, twilight.  Twinkling in the middle of the night.  Perhaps not the most distinguished buildings, but sentinels, and in their way, completely thrilling.   You are in New York City, they said, the BIG BIG apple.  A place where, when you look up, you need to crane your neck.

I don’t want to write here about the sight of the planes, the fireball, the anguished streets.

What I want to write of is September 12th.  A friend called us early in the a.m.  “We have to do something,” she said.

So, she and her kids came over, and, first things first, we baked.  Chocolate chip cookies for the rescue workers.  Then made sandwiches.  Then took everything to St. Vincent’s Hospital, a would-be triage center.  (There were, unfortunately, virtually no wounded; almost everyone at the towers died at once.)  As the day went on, we made the rounds of local restaurants, collecting buckets of ice (it was a hot day and we were told that ice was somehow needed), even later, sorted pairs of tube socks (it was supposed to turn cold that night. )

As the skies grew orange, then purple, then dim dark grey, with smoke, dust, lights, we took our baggies of chocolate chip cookies, bandanas wrapped over our mouths and noses, to the West Side Highway, handing them through the truck windows of workers going to and from the site.  They kindly took them, one guy even handing us back face masks to wear in place of our scarves.

I don’t know if anyone actually ate the cookies, wore the socks, but making them, collecting them, made our lives sweeter, stabilized our feet, gave us for those couple of days at least, some direction; a sense of which way was up.

I give thanks.



For a poem about 9/11 the day.

Pat Downs

November 19, 2010

Uncomfortable, maybe, but truly a nightmare? ( Sorry- the elephant search above is not a true "pat-down" or even "trunk-down.")

Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker, used to the jam of bodies on the subway system, or maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker who was an  an eye witness to the second plane hitting the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Whatever the reason,  as a New Yorker, I find the consternation about increased airline security, particularly body pat-downs, at best ridiculous, at worst, maddening.

I can understand the worry about the radiation hazards of body scans, but the pat-downs–  Come on, People!

The protest over the patting seems, in part, a sign of the of the over-sexualization of the culture (which tends to fill every touch with innuendo).

Yes, I suppose it’s possible the searches can, and will be, abused.  (Already I find myself backtracking!)  But many are complaining about the concept of any physical search.  (Some of the complaints remind me of a conversation I overheard in Florida just after the ban on taking liquids overseas;  “if Americans can’t take their carry-on on airplanes, the terrorists have won!” )

In many places in the world, these types of searches are routine.  In India, visits to the Taj Majal at night as well as to many museums, and certainly any airplane flight,  involve universal pat downs  – women police officers patting down ladies behind a screen, men patting down men.

Now there’s a thought!  Maybe the answer in this country, given its more sexualized culture, would be to give passengers their choice, gender-wise, of “patter-downer.”

But the part of the controversy that makes me truly upset is the part that places convenience and avoidance of discomfort over concerns of airplane security.   The other day, thinking about this, Patrick J. Brown came to mind, Paddy Brown. (Maybe I thought of him, I realize now, because of the rhyme.).  Brown was an NYPD captain, killed on 9/11.  I did not know him, but several different friends did–one group, because he practiced yoga; another, because he was a martial artist who taught karate to the blind.  All agree that he was a truly remarkable person.  He died because he refused to leave a group of injured people on a high floor of the WTC, waiting with them in the hope of further help.

First Time Away From New York on 9/11 – Missing Bagpipes

September 11, 2010

This is the first 9/11  since the 9/11 that I have not spent in the City.  (I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you which one.)

I don’t particularly like 9/11 in the City.  I live a block or so from Ground Zero.  It is a somber difficult place on the anniversary, full of detours and no-crossing barricades.  The only thing good are the bagpipes.

There is always the question of whether or not to go to the ceremonies.  I usually just listen to the bagpipes–the sound travels–and then don’t go, or if I do, it is by chance, walking past the site to work while some of the names are being read.

This is not because I don’t respect the names or the day.  I simply find them too sad.

I realize this evening that I have never been away before because on every other 9/11 I’ve had a child living in the City, and I’ve felt, silently, that I could not risk being away from a place and time that reverberates with crisis if one of my children is there.

I know that if something (something else) happened, I would not necessarily be able to help my children, no matter how many cars mothers are supposed to be able to lift.   But there it is–something that 9/11 has left with me, not only the sense of past loss, the understanding of potential loss.

Away from the City, there is television coverage.  It too is sad–the footage of the actual day completely intolerable– but also maddening–actual commemoration nearly outweighed by posturing, schmaltz, sensation.   With only the barest wheedle of bagpipes.  Bagpipes are really not the same on tape.

For a poem (a villanelle) about 9/11 and also children, click here.

Bozo With Holy Books – Abuse of September 11th

August 26, 2010

One Set of Ingredients for Bozodom in America

Feel sick after reading last night about Pastor Terry Jones.  He is the Florida ex-hotel manager turned “Pastor” planning to burn a bunch of copies of the Koran on September 11th.  This bozo admits that he has “no experience” of the Koran, but feels that burning it is his right as an Amerian Christian.

Oh, great.

Jones claims to know the Bible (excluding, I guess those parts, about brotherly love.)    (By the way, Terry, Yahweh appeared as a burning “bush” not a bookpile.  Also, fyi, –those best known for burning books were certainly not “not-Christian”, but not exactly folks you’d want to emulate.)

It’s idiotic, embarrassing, dangerous, sickening.

What is additionally upsetting to me as a downtown New Yorker is that he is staging his outrage on September 11th.

For people who lived in downtown New York on September 11th, the anniversary of the day is very somber.   We ran, we walked, we stared, we wept.  We breathed air, thick with dust, ash, bone, asbestos and the smell of burn for months.   We were fearful of crowds, saddened by bagpipes.

We worried (still do) – what if it happened again?  How would we meet up with children?  Did we have duct tape?  Face masks?  Iodine tablets?  Could we get across the Hudson?

We became, at least if you are someone like me, even more sympathetic to people who live with a risk of violence on a much more frequent basis–people who suffer “shock and awe” in war-torn  or simply difficult societies.

If you feel any kind of connection to 9/11, you do not want to augment idiotic symbolic violence.   You want to promote tolerance, peace.  This is not just because you want don’t want to foment another attack on yourself, it’s because you understand that any violent/burning extremism, especially when combined with religious fundamentalism, causes woe.   (You are down on woe.)

This ridiculous vicious ignorant intolerant hoopla from people whose connection to 9/11 came primarily through media exposure (i.e. seeing it on TV), and who are seeking (you guessed it!) more media exposure (i.e. seeing themselves on TV) is beyond sickening.

Attacks of Amnesia – Giuliani, Perino, Matalin

January 16, 2010

Not quite breaking news:  Rudy Giuliani has fallen victim to a sudden infestation of swine amnesia.  Unlike the former brain glitch of Mr. Guiliani, a rare “towerettes” symdrome which caused him to blurt out the numbers 9/11 every few moments, the new affliction has  caused his brain to blank out these numbers.  Symptoms were manifest recently during a televised discussion of the attempted Christmas day attack by Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in which Mr. Giuliani insisted that there had been no domestic terror attack under the presidency of George W. Bush.

Other victims of this amnesia appear to be Dana Perino, ex-press secretary to George Bush, and Mary Matalin, a former senior advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

To give Ms. Perino the benefit of the doubt,  she may not have truly “forgotten” the attacks of 9/11, but have attempted to make a distinction between an attack carried out by a U.S. citizen, such as the shootings at Fort Hood, and attacks by foreign nationals.   (I’m sorry not to have done better research here—the tapes of people saying things like this make me too upset to spend a long time listening to them.)

Without wishing to diminish the horror of the terrible shootings at Fort Hood, I can’t help but remind Ms. Perino of the U.S.-born Beltway sniper,  John Allen Muhammed, who spread terror throughout Virginia and Maryland in 2002 (a Bush year).

Unlike Ms.  Perino,  Ms. Matalin seems to have simply “xed” out the first year of Bush’s presidency; her disorientation alloting it to the Clinton column.

All of these killings are horrible; the fact that they are used to score political points is itself a sickness.  Hopefully, this amnesia will not be contagious.  Unfortunately, Giuliani, Perino and Matalin, are already beyond cure.

Ink Pot Pill Box Hat – Beginning of Decade/End of Era

December 28, 2009

Ink Pot Pillbox Hat (after Rene-Jean Teillard)

With all the newspaper articles, I’m taken back to the beginning of the decade/century/millenium, or maybe just before, when everyone worried that Y2K would wreck havoc with all known security and operational systems, even perhaps bringing the end of the world as we knew it.  Flights scheduled for December 31 sold at heady discounts, and one guy I knew, who had a record of moving violations while drunk, was happily confident that the imminent self-destruction of the DMV’s computer system would finally give him a chance to get another driver’s license.

(Lesson:  the “end of the world as we know it” does not generally happen according to calendared anticipation but with utter unexpectedness of  box cutters taken onto a plane.)

Putting all that aside, the beginning of the decade/century/millennium brought a range of unexpected developments not only in the world, but in  my personal life. The first big event was the bursting of pipes in a snowy country house.  (This led, years later, to a second marriage.)  In the midst of those burst pipes, we also lost electricity for a few days (not because of Y2K, but an ice storm); for a day or two, we had to ship a dear old French friend, then houseguest,  to some one else’s house since our friend, then in his 90’s, suffered in a house lit by candles and heated by firewood.

Thinking back, I can’t help but focus on that same French friend, who died at the beginning of the following year, in early January 2001.  Rene-Jean Teillard, he was born to an aristocratic family in the Pyrenees in 1906 or 7, and there schooled by Jesuits, which instilled  in him a lifelong hatred of Catholicism.  He was a resistance fighter in World War II, who escaped capture by the Nazis by pretending to be mad, and later rescued several U.S. paratroopers in the French countryside.  This rescue (the paratroopers were from the South) led to Rene’s being awarded the “key to the city” of Tupelo, Mississippi, a town which welcomed him on visits throughout his life.

After the war, Rene emigrated to New York City.  I say, New York City, because although Rene later became a U.S. citizen, his move was definitely to New York.  He simply adored New York, believing it to be a place where one could do, see, be, anything; where freedom and possibility were literally made concrete.  He had a talent for design and friendship, was gifted with creativity and charm.  He opened a hat shop, where he made beautiful, stylish and above all, playful hats, whose sales and rentals sent him around the world four times.   (I’ve drawn one of the simpler ones; the more elaborate featured small pianos, flower pots, balloons….)

He was an old-fashioned New Yorker, both generous and parsimonious in the extreme–you probably know the type, a person who will give you absolutely anything while also spending as little as possible on himself.   His rent-controlled apartment, a fourth floor walk-up on Madison Avenue, looked like the inside of a Faberge egg, with hand-marbelized woodwork, a deep purple canopied ceiling (in the bedroom),  and a combination of true Louis XIV antiques and furniture scavenged and re-made from the City streets.

In the hot New York summers, he stayed with friends outside of the City.  He was the ideal long-term guest in that, with his broad life experience (he was probably the only person ever to have had therapy sessions with Carl Jung and to also go to the circus with Elvis Presley), he was both (i) a great talker, and (ii) a great listener.  Above all, he was purposeful, capable of silently, independently,  and beautifully, repairing almost anything broken, torn, fraying.

He was not perfect.  French, he could be snide, classist, gossipy (although not with confidences), and he drank a fair amount of wine.  But he was above all interested.  A taxi ride with him was an education; by the end of it, one had learned, through him, where the driver was from, whom he had left behind, and what he hoped to do when he did or didn’t return.  The driver, magically, did not feel drained by this, but unique, valued.

His favorite word was “marvelous.”

I think of him at the beginning of this century because he was such a creature of the last one.    Who wore hats after Jackie Kennedy?  Who uses ink in the age of computers?  Does Tupelo, Mississippi still have a key?  Does France still have nuns?   Is New York still a place where one can do, see, be, anything?

He missed 9/11, for which I was grateful.  It would have grieved him beyond measure.

Disturbance on the Central Florida Coast – Views of Obama

December 27, 2009

Arrived in Florida (Central Atlantic Coast) in the middle of the night.

Arriving in Florida is always a bit of a shock;  usually, it’s the humidity, the immediate and improbable moistness of the air.  But this time we left an onslaught of driving rain in New York City and arrived to a dry cool night.

We were met by a car service driver I’ve used for years whom I view as something of a friend.  I think the friendship is reciprocated (as evidenced by the fact that he was willing to wait for us till 1 a.m.)

Although my daughter asked me, before we met our driver’s car, to please not get in an argument about Obama, one started almost immediately.  The driver began it, actually, bringing up a story about how some other passenger, a military guy, had told him Obama was a terrorist against the U.S.  (This seemed to be a view for which the driver had some sympathy.)

I protested, despite my daughter’s stiffening in the backseat.

Our discussion heated up from there.  Eventually, even the daughter who had asked me not to argue broke in on the pro-Obama side.

I really like this driver.  He is extremely good-natured and sweet.  Even after I resorted to the F-word— our discussion had moved on through a variety of topics to 9/11–as a New Yorker who lives in downtown Manhattan, I feel like I have a closeness to 9/11 that simply cannot be approximated by people living on the Florida coast—he chuckled,  surprised both by my vehemence and my views, but not offended.

It all goes to show how different the country is outside of New York City, a difference that is almost unimaginable to me from downtown Manhattan.

The difference was reinforced later in the day, as we walked (which is unusual in itself here–but hey I’m a New Yorker, I walk) to a fast food franchise to pick up a favorite dish of my dad.  These places exist in New York City, but they are not on my immediate family’s radar.  Yes, this is probably due to a kind of elitism–though it’s really more of a nutritional and culinary elitism than economic.  New York has a plethora of amazing, unfranchised, food.   If my kids are hungry, they’ll go for a slice, a bagel,  spring rolls,  salt and pepper squid.

All the young and middle-aged people both serving and being served  were big, almost overflowing.   It’s a cliché, but, in this case at least, the truth.    We felt puny in comparison, ordered baked potatoes to share.

In the evening, the difference I went jogging on the only  nearby bit of sidewalk.  I tripped twice—the sidewalk turned out to be rutted—then was chased by a free-roaming Pomeranian that actually ran all the way across the street.

Okay, I’ll admit it;  I’m emphasizing the negative.   Frankly, there are lovely things about Florida and almost all the people  I deal with here are kind, polite, patient, personally generous; many  are not in the least bit overweight; the State, in fact, went for Obama in the 2008 election.

But when I hear this knee-jerk dislike/distrust of Obama, a distrust that not only questions the legitimacy of his presidency but also of his citizenship, it’s hard to feel like we are from the same planet, much less the same country.

The good news, I guess,  is that I called the driver to apologize;  he laughed again, said he really enjoyed our discussion, seemed to mean it.

Hating War – Supporting Obama

December 1, 2009

I hate war.   But anyone listening to Obama’s speech at West Point tonight must acknowledge the care he has taken over his decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan and the deep and pained sense of moral responsibility that was present in his eyes and voice.

The choices are terrible   As a New Yorker especially, I would like all of these dangers to simply go away, to not exist now or ever.   I hate that intermittent  feeling that I really should move  (soon) so as not to be at the epicenter of a devastating attack.  Living in Manhattan through 9/11 and in the post-9/11 years, one wonders whether history will look back at New Yorkers as people who were blind to the writing on the wall, like Pompeians living just below Mount Etna, or German Jews in the 30’s.    (Unlike many German Jews, most of us could leave.)

Obama makes one conscious that these kinds of dangers will not dissolve on their own.  Will war fix them?  I don’t know.  I wept when Bush called the terrorist attack of 9/11 an act of war rather than a crime,  in part because I did not want any kind of war to be waged, and in part because I simply had a harder time trusting Bush’s judgment.   My disagreement with him on other issues, and his difficulty in conveying knowledge or thoughtfulness, made it hard for me to ever be swayed by him.

I worry now that Obama’s continuation of the war feels very short in terms of reaching long-term goals.  (At the same time, I also really don’t want U.S. involvement in the conflict to be longer.   Aside from my general pacificism, anything long-term feels like an occupation, doomed from the start.)

But in the end, I find myself anxious to trust Obama’s judgment.     It is clear that he has thought deeply, explored details, is knowledgeable, and is guided by a clear and well-articulated moral compass.   (He’s like the oldest child in the family, the one who both studies up and leads.)    Listening to him also makes me very anxious that nothing untoward or violent happens to him.  His speeches are sometimes imbued with such a strong sense of destiny and purpose, that it is hard not to worry about his personal safety.

I try to feel better about it all thinking about girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan.  There was a wonderful set of videos earlier this year in the New York Times about a school girl in Swat Valley, the daughter of the headmaster of a girls’ school.  The girl, fierce in her pursuit of an education, was inspiringly articulate; her father’s bravery incredible.   One has to hope that these efforts can somehow help her and girls like her–that is, all girls and women who live or may live in Taliban or Al Quaeda dominated territory.  Ultimately, one feels that it is only through the education of women in these parts of the world that lasting progress towards peace can be made.  Obama, ever the diplomat, did not mention the plight of women in these extremist Islamic cultures, but between his wife, two daughters, and Hillary in the front row, one has to hope he’s giving thought to that as well.

USS New York

November 2, 2009

USS New York

The USS New York sailed by Battery Park City this morning, an LPD-21 (whose name, I believe, means something like “landing platform deck”) stopping opposite the World Trade Center site.  My camera didn’t work (or I didn’t know how to work it on a brisk morning), and settled for holding my shivering  dog under my jacket, so I only have the “artist’s rendering” above.

The ship, in honor of New York, is made in part (probably extremely small part) from steel from the World Trade Center.  The Hindu-temple-like stupas at the front are missile defense systems.

Bagpipes played the Marine corps anthem “From the Halls Of Montezuma”.

Fire boats sprayed blue and white water.  (Their spray in the morning light, with the Statue of Liberty and huge grey ship in the background, and Hudson rippling on all sides,  and ferry boats, and police boats, and little coast guard rubber style boats, was really quite beautiful.)

Eleven helicopters were counted.