Tuesday, September 11, 2007


(From Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki -- submerged train tracks)

We all have a narrative about that day. Mine is fragmented because I've been picking at it, trying to undo some of the seams.

So much was already wrong in my life. After a year without work, I'd finally landed a job, in a hospital transcription office that was turning out to be the worst working environment of my life. All of my coworkers were brain-dead right-wingers who listened to hate radio -- AT WORK -- during the day. I would never have been hired if they'd realized I was a Lesbian. They adored W. and all that he stood for.

My little brother Bill had been dead not quite three months. I was still blaming myself.

Several relationships in my life were failing, mostly because of my increasing disability and people's difficulty in dealing with the changes it wrought. The woman I was most in love with, however -- let's call her Bea -- was vacating every commitment she'd made to me one by one, without notification, and finding ways to convince me it was my fault each time. Interestingly, she was raised the descendant of wealth in white, privileged Connecticut, the product of private schools and elite colleges, who was now pretending to be a cowboy based on ideas and characters she'd looted from the life of my little brother and other conversations with me. I still didn't believe this could be the class assault it really was.

I'd not given up hope on her. I thought she would choose to stop lying to her friends about her actual class status and stand up to her family, choosing community over money.

It was a Tuesday that year too, my day off. The phone woke me up early, and it was one of my estranged friends, someone who had once been my best friend. She had recently moved back to Texas from New York. She yelled in my ear "They're bombing New York, turn on your TV!" and hung up.

I staggered into my living room and picked up the remote. No matter what station I turned it to, the same image was playing over and over -- a plane smacking at an angle into a high-rise, with ballooning orange clouds blowing out the sides of the building. Nobody seemed to be making any sense of it. Then a reporter's voice said a plane had also crashed in Washington, DC, apparently deliberately.

Bea's family lived in a suburb of DC. We hadn't been talking for a few weeks, but I didn't think before I dialed her number. She answered immediately and said "What the fuck is happening? Are we under attack?"

"I don't know. Have you talked to your parents?"

"Yeah, they're fine. Just -- get over here, will you?"

"On my way."

She had the most broken-down, dirty couch I'd ever seen, but we used to lie on it together, and as soon as I got to her house, I plopped myself down on it in front of the TV. She curled into me, and her dog joined us. An amazingly calm dog whom I loved passionately. As we watched, a second plane hit the building nearby. We screamed together, and began weeping.

She began telling me about the World Trade Center towers, what they meant to New York. She talked about how high they are, and the helipad on the roof where people on the upper stories could await rescue. We noted how some of the newscasters were already blaming "Arabs", despite the history of Timothy McVeigh.

The news finally reported that Bush was being flown to safety somewhere, and that Cheney was in a bunker. "With his finger on the fucking button, no doubt" she said. We were more afraid of our own government than what was being aimed at us. But then, we'd seen what Bush had done to Texas as Governor.

We were watching when the first tower fell, and the second. We saw people running and screaming. We had trouble believing it. I was incredibly grateful to be with her, who shared my political and spiritual beliefs so closely I knew we were in one accord. We kept crying and trembling together.

Every now and then the news would say Bush was being flown to yet another location. "He's on the run, the fucking loser" she said. "Don't it make you miss Clinton?"

I answered "He wouldn't be in hiding, he'd be down there on the streets of Manhattan, hugging people and saying 'Ah feel yore pain'." We laughed, shocking ourselves.

We ordered a late lunch from the Lynn Street Cafe, ravioli with pine nuts and a salad with their tamari mustard dressing. She went to pick it up, and her dog opted to stay with me. When Bea got back, she said she'd been listening to the radio in the car, NPR, and Billy Collins was going to speak later. We looked at each other and said "Poets, that's who we need to hear from." We kept the TV on but turned down the sound and listened to the radio instead for the rest of the day.

Except when the television showed the members of Congress lined up on steps in front of some building. We turned the sound back up to hear what was going on. They looked terrified and confused. Spontaneously, they began singing the national anthem, their arms across their chests. That was when I got scared all the way down to my bones. It was bad enough that Bush was MIA and Cheney's response could only be evil -- but clearly the rest of our government had not a clue about what to do. Except the addictive, unthinking emotion of so-called patriotism. In that moment, I had a premonition about how bad the next few years were going to be.

At the end of the day, when we parted, we knew we'd connected cleanly and with open hearts for the last time. At least, I knew. We kept trying, and things got worse. Much worse. As did the country.

What good is it to understand things at the outset if you have no power to keep doom from rolling in? I spoke out, I wrote, I argued with the fascists at my job. As clear-headed as I was about Bush and his orcs, I was in denial about Bea and our dynamic. Took me another couple of years to get clear there, helped out by a blunt friend (who had once been close to her as well) who said "How long are you going to pour yourself down that rathole?"

I'm still asking that question about America's choices. Not all of them -- some of the clouds of debris have cleared, and those of us who saw the writing on the wall way back when have been (mostly) fair in not saying "I told you so, you worthless morons, fix this mess yourself, you voted for the antichrist".

I could make points here, draw parallels, create a shining and logical narrative. But instead I'm choosing to leave it as it is, a mess in my past that I've learned from without having what they call closure. Closure is for short stories and poems, not necessarily life.

A year later, the poem below was published in Affirming Flame: Progressive Texas Poets in the Aftermath of September 11th, an anthology published by Evelyn Street Press. I read it aloud at the book launch party. Bea was standing in the back of the room, listening and understanding that it was actually about her. She left without talking to me.


You know you want me
in your datebook, on the road with you,
last-thing-at-night phone calls,
pencil marks up interior walls
to chart each new stanza,
hands resting on each other to light candles

You want the power to coax me
into a crippled girl's waltz
in front of the whole town
You want to polish your teeth
on my lovely lovely shoulders

You want me there when we open
your mother's closet
to choose what we will bury her in
When the cities start to crumble
and the towers fall around us

you want me bumped down beside you
on that doggy couch
to watch over and over
the moment when it all changed

You want my fingers still sticky from you
separating the fibers of your
grandfather's rage
to peer in at him as he was Before:
the terrified oysterman's boy
You want me to forgive him
as your father has not
granting him a redemption
my brothers are dying with

For centuries we've lived with your desire
lapping at our ankles
warping the jambs so doors have to be wedged
open or shut

You want me
in your kitchen, washing
your stained sheets,
bringing food to public tables,
loving your children
You want me angry enough
to willingly stay away from your neighborhood
A separation you can traverse
to show your parents
how fucked up they are
Living rooms you can visit
for funerals, weddings,
the week after Christmas.
But to live among us, like us,
would be patronizingly
downwardly mobile,
would it not?
Not an honest expression,
tainting the movie scene quality
of truths you need from us
your faithful nanny
your allwise maid
your supernatural caddy
I mean, our lives are so hard
What would it serve
for you to give up your margin?
You can do a greater good with it
And the folks, they prepared you
to do that greater good
Some solo, original effort
that will create clippings with
your name printed bold
you can mail back home

You demand of god the right to
pick your own way across
this field of boulders, with time
to stop for an egg sandwich
when the sun is direct
You are pretty sure
god is smiling on your choices
because the slots keep
lining up cherry rewards

You do not notice
you buy your extra
with midnight feeds at the
necks of us who never
get a rest
You refuse to identify
that taste in your mouth
when you wake up each morning

No matter what the Hollywood mercantile tells us,
sleeping with strangers is easy and means
nothing at all
Every sexual partner available to you
is either victim
or perpetrator
If you think your choices are better than this,
you've purchased that illusion
Living with strangers, that's
what calls forth the god in us

Every step you take
is on stolen ground
Every dollar you earn
means someone somewhere is cheated
Every bite you take
comes from something that had a soul
and wanted to live

Jesus said "There is no middle class
in my father's country
Give it all away"
Mohammed said "There are no weapons
to win this battle
Give them all away"
Buddha said "There is no you
Give yourself away"

You're already sprinkled with go-dust
All that remains is to throw open the shutters
And step out into starlight
Mr. Barrie (in the way
of all the pedophiles
who've defined our view of youth)
had it one octave wrong
It's only about the Wendy-house
Time to give up our boy fixation

You know you want me

You are waiting, finally, for your own burning bush
god's voice molten in your desperado ears
a convenient conflagration
on your personal horizon
But Moses was alone in a desert
Chances are, you won't be
You may be instant messaging right through
a dozen hot spots a day
Go get a good night's sleep, then
wake the hell up
Do everything with the relish of terror
Stop mainlining judgment, sophistication,
urbanization, sex --
the four archangels of American distraction --
Notice who else is awake in the house
Walk with them, at the pace of the slowest
and just shut up for a minute, will you?

I'm not gonna sit in the stairwell waiting
for a designated hero
I've decided to let strangers
take me onto their backs
The worst
that can happen is I will die
with my arms around a
beating heart

You know you want me

The water is wide
I look to you
for the boat that will
carry two

Here's my plan:
Grieve your dead
down to the last drop
then wash your face
and go
Repeat daily
until you run out of time

Here's my plan:
Forgive yourself
Forgive yourself
Forgive yourself

©Maggie Jochild, 12 March 2002, 10:20 p.m.


little gator said...

I think we all have jumbled memories of that day. I was home all day, and found the computer more compelling than tv(which were in different rooms)

A local friend had a sister who saw it all form a nearby street. She told us hwo to reach CNN's mirror site, we kept trying to reach her sister.

We learned that our Boston to La flight of a few years earlier was one of the flight numbers involved.t

I stuck mostly to email with a few lists i feel very close to. MOst of one list was in and out of chat all day. I saw the towers fall only in replay, the moment the first one went LR in chat was yelling about it in all caps.

KS couldnt find her father. They were both in upper Manhattan and fine, bntu neither knew it yet.

CR's sister was quoted with incoherence I'd never have expected from her. All she could say was "it's like a war zone." over and over.

DS was the worst off. Her husband worked at the Pentagon, and was shut in some kind of vault when the plane hit. he never knew a thing until he finsihed his task and came out to an empty office, and stayed there helping. It was 6 pm before Dotti even knew he was alive-his office mates didn't know what had happened to him. To this days he says very little about it, but got hysterical trying to tell DS somethign he saw involving a pair of shoes, and that's all she knows about it.

Two residents of my town were on the New York planes. We regulary drive past a gas station with a granite memorial to the owner's son, who was in one of the planes.

Another friend worked in
the towers and decided to telecommute that day. Everyone in KM's ffice got out ok(roughly 50th floor and their work day started almost 1/2 an hour after the first plane hit), but all their data would have been destroyed if KM didn't have a backup safe in his suburban home.

PT on one list was very upset, he'd had a phone conference with someone near the top of a tower. She died, of course, and he felt tremendously guilty because he didn't like her much from previous calls and they'd never met.

MB in Washington told us later how eerie it was driving home and seeing the Pentagon in flames.

EH is an offical in my town, and has an astounding talent for quieting ranters and keeping the town meeting running smoothly. A few days later we were at a gathering at the town common. I never in my life thought I'd see her cry in public, but I did then. It was the spontaneous singalong of This Land is My Land that did it. Possibly beacuse it's a *non* patriotic love song for the USA.

For a few weeks no one had a name for the whole thing and I heard it called "teh tragedy" before we all sensibly decided to just call it by its date.

TK was expecting a baby in a few days. First she was fearful of her dughter growingup in a scary world, and gave the baby "Hope" as a second middle name.

our sick joke: I woke up a little after 9 am and checked CNN's website(last time I ever checked news before I was fully awake) A plane had hit one of the towers, and so far that's all they knew.

MR Gator woke up soon after, I told him, and he made the understatement of the year:

"I guess *this* won't be a slow news day."

Blue said...

"I could make points here, draw parallels, create a shining and logical narrative. But instead I'm choosing to leave it as it is, a mess in my past that I've learned from without having what they call closure. Closure is for short stories and poems, not necessarily life."

I sure did need to hear this in words other than mine.

On 9/11 I was with Melissa and my family in a seaside cabin-camp. A beautiful, sunny day, the kind only the rugged Maine coast can produce. Beyond the smoking destruction and chaos on TV, great picture windows on cloud-swept chalk blue sky, whirling seagulls, jagged sea-sculptured rocks.

Your poem affects me profoundly.


Maggie Jochild said...

I love your account, Little Gator. I'd like to see more of those, from "ordinary" folks -- okay, you're certainly not ordinary, but you know what I mean.

The Sunday after, I went to Quaker Meeting here and it was jammed, standing room only around the edges. Both Walter Cronkite's and Dan Rather's daughters are members of our Meeting, and they were there. Usually silent worship is very silent, but that day, dozens of people stood to talk -- about what they had heard from people who lived in New York, or were visiting. I wept through most of the hour. It was so connecting. We could have done so much with how we all came together. Probably the number one betrayal of Bush, squandering that unity.

And Blue -- you can write your poetry anywhere I get a chance to read it, any time. (sigh)

little gator said...

Thank you. I couldn't even get the closure of a total core dump. By the time I'd written as much as I could stand to, I *still* had a few more screens worth ofthought, which I'll leave alone for now.

So I'll tell you about the day the us invaded Afghanistin. I was in Essex, Massachusetts, a coastal tourist town, at Woodman's which claims to have invented the fried clam.

It's the type of place where you place your order, get a number, and then pcik it up and take it to a table. It was early dinnertime ona ything lovely weekend day, so the line went out into the street.

We were just getting out of the way when after ordering when everything went quiet. Near the line, the tv over the bar was showing CNN announcing that It Had Started. Nearly everyone just stopped and looked silently horrified. No one said much, but there were lots of shocked looks and muttering.

I've since heard abotu many Americans who approved of it, but there were few if any there.

And then they called our order and we went and ate it.

It takes a lot to shut up a packed house at Woodman's but I know now it can happen.