Remembering 9/11

I was about to turn 16, at the time. I was a sophmore in high school at my beloved Thornton Friends, and at the time the planes hit the towers I was in English. We were reading Brave New World.
At TFS we had announcements/break, and that day, the principal called us into the Big Room where we gathered as a school. I remember the experssion on his face. I remember when he looked around at all of us and said that he had really terrible news. I remember listening to the words come out of his mouth and not believing. I didn’t even know, really, what the World Trade Centers were. I remember him telling us that we were safe out here in Silver Spring. I remember one kid asking if this was an act of terrorism. At nearly sixteen–my birthday falls two days after 9/11–I was incredibly, inexuscably naive. It had never occured to me that terrorism might happen here. That was something, surely, for other countries.
Not for us.
Most of what I remember that day is a feeling of disbelief. One of the teachers said that it must be Osama bin Laden who had done this, and I had no idea who that might be. I was young. I was also, as many Americans are, naive. I really and truly thought that we were safe, that the bombings and acts of terror I glanced at in the newspapers happened only in other places.
I don’t think that anymore. Although the terror I lived with for quite some time after 9/11 has faded to a very dull roar, I still startle to see planes overhead. It has been eight years and I still look up and watch the sky. When I take the train or drive through New York I watch the skyline.
Ani Difranco wrote a poem not long after 9/11 that expressed what I felt but could not articulate. I have put it at the bottom of this post. When I went to see her in concert (and got to interview her!) that winter, I had a copy of the poem in my bag. I had been carrying it around. It helped me make sense of things. Or at any rate, it helped me put words to things.
It has been eight years and every year on this date I thank a God I don’t even know if I believe in that no one I know was hurt. And I try to do what the Quakers taught me, to hold those who died and those who lost people in the light. I don’t know exactly what that means, but goodness knows, I try.
And I hope it never happens again–and I live with the certainity that it will, of course, because terrorists still exist.
It is weird to look at the children I know. The ones I’ve known the longest were 3 on 9/11. They have no memories. The younger ones weren’t born. I look at them and listen to them clamor all over me, reciting facts about animals and the Red Sox and what they did in school, and I hope to God that they never feel that terror.

Self Evident, by Ani Difranco
us people are just poems
we’re 90% metaphor
with a leanness of meaning
approaching hyper-distillation
and once upon a time we were moonshine
rushing down the throat of a giraffe
yes, rushing down the long hallway
despite what the p.a. announcement says
yes, rushing down the long stairs
with the whiskey of eternity
fermented and distilled
to eighteen minutes
burning down our throats
down the hall
down the stairs
in a building so tall
that it will always be there
yes, it’s part of a pair
there on the bow of noah’s ark
the most prestigious couple
just kickin back parked
against a perfectly blue sky
on a morning beatific
in its indian summer breeze
on the day that america
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you
or please

and the shock was subsonic
and the smoke was deafening
between the setup and the punch line
cuz we were all on time for work that day
we all boarded that plane for to fl
y and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the windowsill a
nd then we all held hands
and jumped into the sky

and every borough looked up when it heard the first blast
and then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
and the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
looked more like war than anything i’ve seen so far
so far
so far

so fierce and ingenious
a poetic specter so far gone
that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
over ‘oh my god’ and ‘this is unbelievable’ and on and on
and i’ll tell you what, while we’re at it
you can keep the pentagon
keep the propaganda
keep each and every tv
that’s been trying to convince me
to participate
in some prep school punk’s plan to perpetuate retribution
perpetuate retribution
even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air
and there’s ash on our shoes
and there’s ash in our hair
and there’s a fine silt on every mantle from hell’s kitchen to brooklyn
and the streets are full of stories
sudden twists and near misses
and soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
with tales of narrowly averted disasters
and the whiskey is flowin
like never before as all over the country
folks just shake their heads
and pour

so here’s a toast to all the folks who live in palestine
el salvador

here’s a toast to the folks living on the pine ridge reservation
under the stone cold gaze of mt. rushmore

here’s a toast to all those nurses and doctors
who daily provide women with a choice
who stand down a threat the size of oklahoma city
just to listen to a young woman’s voice

here’s a toast to all the folks on death row right now
awaiting the executioner’s guillotine
who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
to find peace in the form of a dream

cuz take away our playstations
and we are a third world nation
under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
who stole the oval office and that phony election
i mean
it don’t take a weatherman to look around and see the weather
jeb said he’d deliver florida, folks
and boy did he ever

and we hold these truths to be self evident:
#1 george w. bush is not president
#2 america is not a true democracy
#3 the media is not fooling me
cuz i am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
i’ve got no room for a lie so verbose
i’m looking out over my whole human family
and i’m raising my glass in a toast

here’s to our last drink of fossil fuels
let us vow to get off of this sauce
shoo away the swarms of commuter planes a
nd find that train ticket we lost
cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
and peeked into all the backyards
and the laundry was waving
the graffiti was teasing us from brick walls and bridges
we were rolling over ridges
through valleys
under stars
i dream of touring like duke ellington
in my own railroad car
i dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
in a grand station aglow with grace
and then standing out on the platform
and feeling the air on my face

give back the night its distant whistle
give the darkness back its soul
give the big oil companies the finger finally
and relearn how to rock-n-roll
yes, the lessons are all around us and a change is waiting there
so it’s time to pick through the rubble, clean the streets
and clear the air
get our government to pull its big dick out of the sand
of someone else’s desert
put it back in its pants
and quit the hypocritical chants of
freedom forever

cuz when one lone phone rang
in two thousand and one
at ten after nine
on nine one one
which is the number we all called
when that lone phone rang right off the wall
right off our desk and down the long hall
down the long stairs in a building so tall
that the whole world turned just to watch it fall

and while we’re at it remember the first time around?
the bomb?
the ryder truck?
the parking garage?
the princess that didn’t even feel the pea?
remember joking around in our apartment on avenue D?

can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their
following a fantastical reversal of the new york skyline?!

it was a joke, of course
it was a joke at the time
and that was just a few years ago
so let the record show
that the FBI was all over that case
that the plot was obvious and in everybody’s face
and scoping that scene
the CIA
or is it KGB?
committing countless crimes against humanity
with this kind of eventuality
as its excuse
for abuse after expensive abuse
and it didn’t have a clue
look, another window to see through
way up here
on the 104th floor
another key
another door
10% literal
90% metaphor
3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
should be more than pawns
in some asshole’s passion play
so now it’s your job
and it’s my job
to make it that way
to make sure they didn’t die in vain
baby listen
hear the train?


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