ONE: An Online Illustrated Anthology:
9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience
TWO: An Online Illustrated Anthology:
9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience
THREE: An Online Illustrated Anthology:
9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience
An Online Illustrated Anthology:
9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience
18 individuals from across
the globe were asked two questions:
1. What is your personal
experience of 9/11? (and) 2. How did 9/11 influence your art and/or your
responses, photos, and examples of their artwork are included in this post.
ROSEMARY RHODES ROYSTON
SUSAN KIMMEL WRIGHT
Hilzinger Baden Württemberg, Germany
(In Spanish). Recuerdo que ese dia estaba
trabajando,cuando mi esposo me llamo por telefono y estaba muy alterado, no
podia explicarme bien lo que estaba pasando porque el mismo no podia creer lo
que veía en la television, mi hijo apenas tenia 1 año de edad y mi suegra lo
estaba cuidando ese dia, yo me asuté por que pense que algo le podía haber
pasado a el, pero mi jefe prendió la tele en su oficina y nos mando llamar a
todos los empleados , lo que vi en la tele me dejo la sangre congelada en las
venas... muy dentro de mi queria salir corriendo para buscar a mi hijo y
abrazarlo, no se porqué, instinto maternal que se yo, estamos muy lejos de USA,
pero aún asi sentía que esto me iba a cambiar lo que hasta ese entonces era mi
vida,tan despreocupada y feliz por mi bebé , todos mis compañeros de trabajo
estaban super nerviosos también, incluso decían que podía empezar una tercera guerra
mundial! ... cuando al fin sali de
trabajar corri directo a recoger a mi hijo y cuando lo tuve en mis brazos lo
abracé con mucho amor y miedo al mismo tiempo,miedo de que mi vida perfecta se
acabará por lo que estaba pasando en USA y al cerrar los ojos veía una y otra
vez lo sucedido...fué terrible...no puedo ni imaginar lo que la gente en NY o
en USA vivieron esos días... desde ese día el mundo no ha sido el mismo...
A pesar de no vivir
en USA ,siento que 9/11 cambió mi vida.
A partir de ese día veo muchas cosas con otros ojos, no es que este paranoica
pero desde entonces tengo un cierto miedo a volar, y me enojo conmigo misma
pues no quiero que esos terroristas tengan poder sobre mi,pero la verdad es que
en cierta manera debido a todos los ataques terroristas que han habido
últimamente me he vuelto más cautelosa y algo miedosa, mi fé es más grande que
nunca , y cuando me pongo a pintar me tranquilizo,me siento segura, mi fé me
ayuda a seguir adelante en este mundo lleno de violencia y atentados terroristas...
Translator, Photographer, Artist and World Traveler
San Francisco, California
ON 9-11, IN RETROSPECT
On September 11, 2001, I walked into the
neighborhood coffee shop for my morning latte, and the owner was not behind the
counter as usual. She was sitting with the customers, and they were glued to
the screen of a small television that someone had brought in. I arrived in time
to see the second plane crash into the building, and then the horrifying
implosion. Like everyone else, I was in shock. America had been attacked by a
foreign power! How lucky we’ve been up to now, I thought. How innocent, how
naïve. And I was glad my parents weren’t alive to see what was happening.
I went home and called a childhood friend in New
York City. She was okay, but she was frightened. She was hoping that we, the
United States, would go to Osama Bin Laden and beg for peace. This was
appeasement! It was time to fight back, to kill, to destroy. We had a heated
argument and didn’t speak again for 10 years. When I saw Bin Laden’s face on
television I pretended my hand was a revolver, and I shot him dead in my
I watched the news for days after and was
especially freaked out by the sound of the thuds as people trapped on the upper
floors jumped out of windows to avoid being burned. This was in the background,
outside, as people talked in front of the cameras. Each thud stunned me, and I
imagined the horrible decision that these people had to make to end their
Paintings by Regina Anavy
We are now in what I consider to be World War
Three, the “War Against Terrorism,” really a war against Jihad. It’s a
religious war that takes us back to the Middle Ages, only with modern weapons.
This is another example to me of how religion is irrational, or an excuse to
make war in order to gain territory. I’m convinced that war is biologically
hard-wired into the male brain. It’s part of the human condition.
One way of protecting ourselves and others is to
shine our own light on the world. We do this through creativity, art and music,
kind acts and refusing to be intimidated. In October 2001, one month after this
traumatic wake-up call for America, I was planning to travel to South Africa. A
couple of people dropped out of the trip. Friends asked me, “Aren’t you afraid
to fly now?” “That’s what they want!” I replied, and I went, defiantly.
Regina climbing Mount Picchu
Traveling, writing, translating, reading,
painting – these things keep me happy and sane.
Nature, also, is healing. And
music. There’s only so much an individual can do, and we must take care of each
other and ourselves while the world whirls around us. In this way we confront
Regina with husband Ralph
Writer, Instructor, Anthropologist
New Orleans, Louisiana
I didn’t watch September
eleventh on television; I watched it through my office window. At the time, I worked in publishing in
Chelsea, a mile due north of the World Trade Center.
My colleagues wept. My boss ran in his office crying. I stood and prayed, angry at whoever are
enemies were. I felt prepared spiritually for that moment, not consciously but
unconsciously. I had been praying a lot
in tongues for months. I sensed I needed
to get ready for something. Surely I
would have preferred something else.
After a colleague of mine led
people down the stairs, I stayed and answered the phone from frightened
relatives of my colleagues, telling them their loved ones were alright but they
should imagine that it would take a long time for those people to call them
back, as we all had to walk home. The
subways were closed. The ferries were
shut down. All of us were on foot.
A colleague of mine and I
walked up The Avenue of the Americas to Bryant Park. A nervous blonde man in a ponytail and a grey
suit told us we couldn’t cross the park; fashion week had been canceled. I
walked across the 59th Street Bridge with others headed home as I
was to a hip, international section of an outer borough.
I stopped to stare at
the coil of dark smoke looming up where the towers had stood. I thought of my great-grandmother, who had
walked just ahead of the fire after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. I knew I came by the resolve I felt honestly.
For days afterwards, I would see big, burly men on the street blubbering, and I
would stop and hold them in my arms as if I were their momma. “We’ll get through this,” I promised.
I was ready for September 11th
somehow. I never thought we were immune
to attack. I was quite sad we had been
attacked, but dammit, I wasn’t going to let them take away my strength. I
delivered cookies to exhausted cops and firemen. I prayed in a lot of vigils. I continued to
pray in tongues a lot, never knowing the whole of the prayer’s contents. It
didn’t matter that I didn’t knew. I knew
My faith never waivered for a
second after September Eleventh. I heard
the pastor of my church declare woefully that God was punishing us. I changed
churches. If he thinks that, I thought,
he agrees with Osama Bin Laden, who imagined himself the instrument of God. I
found a church of people who had been prayed up like I had been without knowing
why. I am still friends with most of
them today, even though I live thousands of miles away now. We are the most optimistic people I know,
My art was already exploring an
arc not unlike the arc of my prayer life, one that complimented and was ready
to respond to September Eleventh. I had
been writing poems about immigrant women
who came from fundamentalist backgrounds of a variety of kinds, writing poems
about the longstanding tension between women’s autonomy and all traditional
I just added to those poems some others, including one of
which I remain quite proud, “In Thanks for Mary,” a poem I had the honor to
read on the first anniversary of September Eleventh to a national radio
audience. That poem documents the
improbable survival of a real woman I know, the improbability of God’s
providence everywhere, His presence even as we struggle to understand where He
is in our lives.
When I first read it in
November 2001 to an audience of still shell-shocked New Yorkers, the whole
crowd wept. It was a very moving experience.
An actress made the poem into a one-woman show she performed a few
times. I was invited to read it at the Montauk Club. I published a chapbook of
works surrounding the tragedy of 9/11 called Counterterrorist Poems. I
received fan mail from unlikely places, friends of the president George W.
Bush, a man for whom I never would have voted. I hope this means that I have
found a vein of artistic truth worth plumbing.
I am probably the only poet in the United States who has been published
in journals run by the Communist Party and the Christian Right. I think when an artist seeks to honor others,
he or she is more likely to find an audience from divergent camps. Perhaps the memory of September Eleventh
unites us all more than it divides us.
It was my intention to search my memory and try to
recreate the first days of my experience after 9/11. To that
end, I turned to my journal of those days, and having reread
it, decided that I could do no better than to present raw the
recording of my thoughts as they occurred. So the journal
from September 11 to October 11, 2001 follows, edited
only for length, clarity and spelling.
Peter is my husband, Tim and Alex my children; the
other people mentioned (not always generously) are if not
well known, then friends and colleagues at Florida State U.
These events informed my life in a fundamental and
permanent way. Some of my imagining of what the 9/11
victims endured found its way into my novel Bridge of
Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014).
Of the many
things I did not then know, the crucial one is that I did not
know my son Tim Eysselinck, who was at the time leading
a team of mine-removal trainees in Ethiopia, would be
doing the same in Iraq by June 2003, or that his enthusiasm
for that war would turn to disillusion and disgust, that he
would return to his family in 2004 and two months later
take his own life.
That story I have told at length in Losing
Tim and will not repeat here, only register that these events,
which I then wrote of in ignorance, now are charged for me
with anger, grief and better understanding of what loss is.
I have long known that I use my writing to make order
where there is internal chaos. I trust writing as a process for my own understanding, and have found a spiritual peace
in the writing of others. As I put it in an essay many years
I believe in the moral use of written words, as a
vehicle for the capacity humans have of imagining
each other. I think this capacity is urgently in
need just now, in the societal pastiche we do and
will inhabit. Literature is my credo because it is
capacious, tentative, and empathetic; because it
acknowledges irony and anomaly; because it poses
dilemmas, for which it declines to offer a way out,
in small acts of perpetual reconciliation.
September 11th, 2001
Was doing my exercises to CNN news as usual when
they interrupted some sports or fashion drivel to switch to
the pix of WTO with a gaping hole in the side. I called out
to Peter and then saw the second building blister and break
with flame—I did not realize a plane had gone into it,
though I had vaguely been aware that planes were in the
sky because I had thought: do they fly too close to those
buildings? CNN at that moment too was speculating some
air traffic controller screwup. P & I both said: nah, we
have been ripe for this. P in fact has sat in front of the
news for two years saying: why haven’t they?
Tried to call Tim—he is not in danger and won’t think I
am, but my impulse was for contact. Could not get
through—busy—and the same for Alex. P was by this time at the U. Learned that the Pentagon had been hit and called
him. Left a message for Julia assuming she had heard but
later learned that I was her first inkling. Watched the band
on the bottom of the TV screen register a 150 point dive in
the DOW and then the little amber arrow blipped away and
UNCH appeared, and I knew the stock market had been
Mark’s email, jaunty (for which he later apologized)
said we would nevertheless meet this aft. for Writing
committee. But Peter came home having cancelled classes;
shortly after that, all gov’t offices closed, and shortly after
that, the U.
Afternoon, Robert O B (Olen Butler) points out that
though everyone is assuming Bin Laden, what have we
got? Four hijackings. What’s to say it isn’t domestic
terrorism a la Murat? Just this maybe: 11 Sept. 1992 was
the Camp David accord. Rumors or info, the plane that
went down in PA was said to be headed for Camp David.
Various Claudia calls—(her daughter) Anne Loomis
works on 25th St. with a view of WTO; she called to say she
was okay. But her company, Royal Blue, has annex office
on 40th of WTO second building hit, and she watched the
building fall. Anne walked over Brooklyn Bridge to home
in Brooklyn, is apparently very strung out.
Edith in the Travel Agency—called (I was in no hurry
to check on airplane tickets) with itinerary, needed to vent.
She was headed home but leaving home number for
stranded clients. Thirty of them, a bunch of FL lawyers
who retreated last year somewhere (Carolinas maybe) from
which they had to evacuate on account of hurricane, are
now stranded in Bermuda.
We swam. Glorious sun and the pool an aquamarine.
We admitted, P & I, there is a thread of awed
admiration in the horror, that they could pull it off, the
timing, the scope, the intensity. And certainly we are
paralyzed: terrorism works. Planes grounded, stock market
and all gov’t closed, shortage of blood. There is in it the
element of caper: the Cosmic Caper, so many movie
heroes from Alec Guiness to Dinero and Norton, intricately
outwitting big business.
actor Alec Guiness
But our President mouthing, posturing, belligerent
little kid. Giuliani, for all his faults, sounds genuine, plain
talker, spontaneous, focus on the job at hand. McCain as
well—otherwise among the politicos so much
ROB also says that the training of the suicide terrorists
promises them harems of women at their disposal in
heaven; they head in to the target with a hard-on.
P says maybe we will learn a little compassion from
this. I say, you kidding? The hawks are aloft. Our lives
have changed today. Security, censorship, military carte
blanche. P says we should now ask: what have we done to
be hated with this intensity? I say: that is the question. But
you would not dare to stand up in a public place and say it.
You would be “blaming the victim.” Never mind the
victims in Palestine, etc.
All day I have wanted to eat.
A nap. Now missiles in Kabul. We wouldn’t, would
we? Retaliate before we know who’s responsible, we of
the innocent-until-guilty persuasion, a pillar of our socalled
Well, no, apparently, thank god. An internal attack
against the Taliban by a group, don’t have their name
clearly yet, whose leader was yesterday wounded, possibly
killed. Rumsfeld says that the US govt. is “in no way”
involved in the attack on Kabul. But ABC reporter says
that everyone he’s met at the Pentagon today is angry, and
that the President’s speech tonight will be “retaliatory.”
The Taliban emerged in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar
around September 1994.
Peter Jennings is the best of the lot, but even he
sentimentalizes the cacophony of Senators on the capitol
steps singing God Bless America, my home sweet home.
What is one to feel who has never been entirely at home
here, first in the desert and then in the dry philistine air?
The emotions are not right. I am awry, wry where I should
feel grief, judgmental of the pres’s beady eyes and
simplistic sentence structure when I should...
Time to register two sour turns of mind: when Claudia
called to tell me of Anne’s proximity to the scene, I
thought—how glad Claudia is to be able to claim a
connection to the disaster. And when I talked to Mark and
he said the baby had not come yet (Jennifer overdue by two
days), I thought—if his child is born today he will race to
do a death/birth article. These impulses not necessarily
inaccurate, but unworthy, accompanied immediately by a
twinge of envy. And here I am diligently writing down my
own paltry experience.
I've been sitting watching CNN since about an hour
after first attack... Sitting here in disbelief and horror-
can't do anything... Seeing the footage thought it was a bad dream or trailer for latest hollywood block
buster. Birgitt and Thyra (his wife and daughter) are
fine and are supposed to come on Friday morning. We are wondering if it is safe to travel?
I think probably international circuits were jammed or
I was on the phone with Birgitt. Much Love, Strength
Thyra up front, and Janet Burroway in the background at Tim's funeral.
Slept medium badly, awake at 3:28 (by the digital
clock) and twisting for some length of time while the
images of the plane going into tower two, the fire ball, the
implosion like a feathered flower being pulled into the
ground by its stem.
At mucky-talk (over coffee) we imagined it, the
perspectives: you are sitting at your desk, absorbed in
some minor problem of mismatched figures or wrestling
with a paragraph of company policy initiatives. Glance up
to see an airplane at an unfamiliar angle, yet not entirely so
because the movies have done this from time to time.
Wobbly, nose foremost. It is heading for you and you
don’t have time to believe it before—what? the noise
registers? or does not? death comes as a thunder that does
not quite reach your brain before the glass, shards of steel,
the paper weight from the third desk over, a crown of Bic
pens is imbedded in your torso.
Or: you are on the plane, reading your magazine,
aware of only a slight scuffle and disturbance—the drinks
cart rattling?—and look up to see a stewardess bleeding
from the back, or from the throat; she staggers toward you
and collapses in the aisle. And then there are how many minutes? Half an hour by all reports, to sit nauseated,
needing to pee and with some small part of your mind
designated to guard against that humiliation. You hope the
aliens—you see them this way, the dark skin, the set of
mouth, the jerky movements—in the aisle, barking, going
about their business, will not notice you. You sit rigid. You
think of spouse, kids, a dull undercurrent of acceptance
runs in you because you believe in your life; you say, well,
here it is, but you don’t believe it; the building is in front of
you but you don’t believe that either though you say, here it
is, now we are gone, and things become violently slow and
clear in the suddenly augmented light, the oriental cutie on
the page of the magazine where it sits still open on your
lap, beckoning to some island paradise; the texture of the
fabric on the seat ahead of you, its ugly functional pattern
of blues and reds, the drops streaming almost horizontal
now on the little oval of light beside you. Sphincter,
stomach, lungs, cranium, toes fingers clenched. You say: I
Or you are in the cockpit, the captain with his throat
cut in the cramped space between the seats, the copilot still
breathing bubbles of blood where he sags against the
window; you have trained seven months for this, you are
primed as an athlete, nervous as a state of extreme
exhilaration; honed. There is no more fear than a runner
with the hurdle in front of him, the hunter with the gun
raised at the kudu, only a concentration so fine it is like the
moment just before cosmic coitus, God in a fireball—get
there, get there, Yes!
Or you are three floors above the gaping hole; the
flames are at your back, below you the cascade of paper like some monstrous ticker tape parade, a snow of daily
slog, the trivia of little deals and desires. The heat comes
hugely at you and you know you will either burn or leap
into that shower. The pieces of it flutter, waft. Choice
Or you are falling with the rubble inward, downward,
arms above your head because that is some odd peculiarity
of gravity/physics/psyche; hit and hurt on all sides but only
dimly aware of this because you can take nothing in but the
elemental sensation of falling, the way you’ve dreamed it a
few dozen times in your life, but this time it does not end,
you do not wake, it keeps going, going, on, on until the
breath is all sucked out of you and your feet touch
something, are broken on something, that is not the ground
but is now the ground, the mountain of mortar and
mortality where you lose finally consciousness
Went to get the NYTimes and went into the vet’s for
flea stuff (business as usual). The girl behind the counter
watching CNN said: oh, look it’s that lady. Christianne
Amanpour, and we agreed that she is in the center of
everything, she flies to the center wherever disaster is.
Now, though, in front of 10 Downing Street, which I
recognized at a glance—curious that, too; I would not have
known I would identify it so automatically. Nor would it
have occurred to me that the vet’s receptionist wd. be
aware of Christianne Amanpour.
This is the story of the three little pigs. The WTO was
concrete and steel, but it was too tall. All skyscrapers are a
house of straw.
At no time, not one moment of the last several years,
have I had any attitude toward the military-industrial complex but recoil, scorn and disdain. This morning
between Publix and the vet I found myself thinking, well,
we’re so big and strong that nobody will think they can
invade us; whew.
But P & I agree that biological weapons are another
matter; one missile of anthrax—could we do anything? P
also reports that Wm. Sapphire says we must “pulverize”
those guys. How can anyone having seen the trade towers
go down yesterday with their burden of smoke-hidden body
parts, use that word?
Still, from time to time a formula of words strikes me
right (or wrong, in any case otherwise than mouthing and
pieties) and the desire for revenge rises in me, before I
remember how pointless the fighting against those who
obsessed me and how much better even a contemptuous
One of the insights of psychology that can be
statistically proven is that victims of abuse grow up to be
abusers. Around the world in the last few decades we have
seen this principle in action—in Israel, in Kosevo,
Zimbabwe, Afghanistan. We see its potential in the
disenfranchised of our own country. We must, ironically,
look to South Africa for any attempt to break the cycle of
hatred; and in South Africa the outcome is far from certain.
The 34 provinces of Afghanistan
The voices raised for “swift justice” in the wake of the
terrible events of this week seem almost universally to
equate justice with revenge. But we must also examine our
justice in the sense of fairness to other nations, peoples, and
our own people. Where have we been arrogant, greedy,
intolerant, contemptuous to an extent that other people have
suffered and died? How has our pride in our status among nations been used to abuse the poor and the weak? What
have we done to foster the intensity of their hatred?
Painting of Irish ship of immigrants coming to America . .
The ancient Greeks believed in The Dike, a trap of
revenge from which one could never escape. Athenian
justice—a jury of peers and the principle of innocence until
proven guilty—was their attempt to break that trap. Our
judicial system has its roots in that attempt.
1886 sculpture of Astræa, signed "A," possibly the
work of August St. Gaudens. Old Supreme Court Chamber, the Vermont State House,
Montpelir, Vermont. August 2007.
In a story on life in the capitol of Afghanistan
yesterday, the New York Times reports that in Khair Khana, a
man selling fertilizer in a Kabul market, had three things to
say about the catastrophe:
I hope our statesmen have this breadth of mind. Our lives
depend on it.
1) The terrorists are “the enemies of God.”
2) “Americans are powerful and can do anything they
like without us stopping them.”
3) “Americans should look into their hearts and minds
about why someone would kill themselves and
others” in such a way.
My television tube has a bad case of post traumatic
stress syndrome, keeps flashing on the same four or five
images of horror, terrified anew by them but cannot let
them go. At night when the tv is off I wake to carry on the
The news media are doing a good job, I think, no
commercials, not too too much ambulance and tears
chasing; Peter Jennings the best, lowest key, measured hour
after hour—yet even he capable of cant lapses... Joanna says they are “profoundly unimpressed” with W.—what
can one say? A moral pygmy, even P agreed at dinner last
night that we wish Clinton were back. Also we all
confessed to low thoughts; Elizabeth that it would buy her
time on her novel; Bob that he had his new short story in
Hemispheres, magazine of United Airlines, and had eerily
(perhaps proudly; that was the low part) thought that it
might be the last thing some of the victims had read before
they were hijacked.
Trivia compared to, this morning, some first real fear
that we will go to war. Not fear of “them”—I have seen the
enemy and it is us. A nationwide passion to go bomb
somebody. But who, is the only trouble. News reports the
belligerent stance of this general and that, this senator and
that, this man in the street and that—but there are far too
few to who notice, for example, that the mood of sudden
unification we are all feeling wd. also apply to the
“enemy.” We have lost five thousand souls and half a
dozen buildings and we are enraged and fist-shaking
around our barbeques. Why should the Afghanis, the
Pakistanis, who have nothing in the world but land and life
to lose, be any less enraged when we come after them? I
don’t see how we could any better play into bin Laden’s
hands than to bomb Afghanistan and so unite the Arab
countries against us.
All the signs are that we will “go to war.” Go where?
This news is two days old, but holds my mind—the
piles of rubble, staggering as they are (a million and a half
tons, did they say?) are not big enough. According to the physics of the thing, they should be stories higher. The
explanation for this is that gypsum, drywall, concrete,
fiberglass, perhaps brick, were pulverized in the tectonics
of that collapse. That is why “smoke” poured through the
streets and still hangs in the whole sky, in eyes and lungs.
What survived, wafting through this dirty apocalypse
like the famous plastic bag of American Beauty, was paper.
Thousands upon thousands of sheets of paper snowflaking,
dancing, gliding, wafting, coming lightly to rest on the
destruction and the dead. Rock, scissors, paper. Rather:
steel, box cutters, paper.
And this image of the strange survival of paper leads
me to observe, that this week people have set aside all
manner of thing because it puts it in perspective and makes
you realize, it’s only sports/a vacation/a conference/a rock
concert. Nobody has suggested that it makes you realize
it’s only writing. Now more than ever we need writing;
the news, the interpretations, the analyses, the commentary;
even the journals like this one that become particular
memory. I am (is this a low thought? don’t think so) proud
of being part of this profession.
Also on the subject of paper: thousands flock to
hospitals and check points, are interviewed on TV, holding
up photos of the “missing,” hoping that “somebody has
seen my husband/brother/daughter.” The authorities gently
ask them to bring dental records and DNA samples, but
here they come with their photographs. “I have faith
he/she is alive. Perhaps in an air pocket.” Moving but also
moving in the way you are moved by someone who was
once sane and now isn’t... Might there, possibly, be yet a
rescue or two? Not likely. What, in this context, can “missing” really mean? There could be (and, I said to P,
will be at least one novel this year on the speculation) a
person or two who survived and took the opportunity to
flee an unsatisfactory life. One woman this morning on
CNN held up the picture of her husband, a technician for
CBS who had lived through the earlier WTC bomb, was on
the 110th floor this time. She hopes he will be found. The
anchor does not comment. Hard to tell what the
interviewers are feeling (saying in the green room) about
their task here. You can’t pull grieving relatives up short
on national news—but we are having a very public
demonstration of how denial works.
Grieving and, a little, afraid. I read this over for the
first time and I see that I am up to old tricks. I always cope
first with mania. On the subject of low thoughts; Mark’s
email Tuesday had as subject matter: Yikes; which I
registered as trivializing, crass. But I now see that I too
started out in little frets, distractions, banalities, yikes of
one sort and another... The horror feeds in slowly, the
losses, the days ahead. Mary Balthrop in London said she
is suddenly aware of one daughter in Florence, one in
Boston, herself in London, her husband in Florida: what is
she doing there? And I have not yet, not yet been able to
catch Alex at home. I am going to insist he get an
Nearly two weeks of focus on getting the Imaginative
Writing ms. in, then oral surgery, writing the NYTBR
review of Klima. Everywhere, everyone: life is altogether
changed and so much the same. People differ in what way this is so. Karen full of life, not afraid of death but
tentacles-out as after a near death experience. Anne
Loomis doing also well in the solidarity among her friends
and the city—the opposite of what was feared—though she
was afraid to go back to work. Me ashamed, here, of my
reaction toward Claudia because I have now seen the view
from Anne’s work window and she did indeed watch from
terrifying nearness, escape in fear. Peter and I conscious of
shifting sands and view with sense of inevitability a
showdown, this decade or next, with the Arab world we
have exploited and teased and misunderstood... Chilled by
the reaction to Bill Maher—comedian who said: they
weren’t cowards, they flew in deliberately at the cost of
their lives; we are cowards to bomb long distance. Media,
gov’t., other actors zapped down on him, he in near tears
apologizing on, I think it was, Letterman. But, but, but!
He was right and even if he were not, dissent is the
precious right we hold and the Taliban crushes, is it not?
Truisms, but I am fearful when I see so little said in his
Clinton, however, did, today, indirectly defend him,
saying that the “peace demonstrators” had every right to
say what they felt, etc. Slick Willy launching a scholarship
fund for the children of the dead, so statesman-smooth, all
the right notes, he’s a boomer bad boy but we could sure do
with him in the WH at the moment. Knows how to say the
strong thing in the lower register, low key, instead of the
weak thing squealing. However, one of his points was that
the gov’t has been more restrained than we’d’ve expected,
and that is blessedly true.
Later—Arianna Huffington also, strongly, Maher’s
defender; and there have been a raft of others; some
sponsors pulled out, but this gave rise to cries of Shame!
and by early October the networks have made clear they
will not pull the show—clear it would be worse for their
reputations to be seen to be on the side of censorship than
on the side of sentiment. (Later: but they did fire him...)
In Phoenix, nine years ago, we went to an IMAX and
watched a documentary on the making of Independence
Day, how they did all those explosions of the Capitol with
models, bomb shots, mini-dynamite placement. The
experts were enthusiastic kids. What I came away with,
more than the wonder they intended for me, was the
understanding that Hollywood movies are full of bombs
and car crashes because these guys have the toys. Also it is
their living. So of course the movies are going to blow
things up, you bet!
I have exactly the same insight watching some general
or other on CNN this morning as he circles the bomb
craters on the recon photo of the runway in Kabul,
describing (voice of pride) the B-2’s, the exactitude of the
missiles’ trajectory, the altitude of the surveillance
equipment, the payload of the bomber. They have and love
the toys; it is their livelihood to deploy them; of course we
will go to war against the Evil One.
Christie at Glastonbury Abbey
On September 10, 2001 I sat soaking up the peace of the Bishop's
Garden at the foot of National Cathedral in Washington, DC, happy to have a
free day all my own at the end of a conference at which I'd been selling books
all week. A day for walking and jotting
down idle notes about the funny gargoyles and the monastic herbs growing around
the old sundial, for buying a jar of Damson plum butter and packets of
seeds—chervil, rue, white yarrow. I flew
home from Dulles that evening.
The Bishop's Gardens in September
frantic ringing of the phone woke me from my jetlagged sleep on the morning of
the 11th—my mother in New Mexico begging me to answer, to assure her that I was
back in California, alive and safe. I
think it made her glad for the first time in my life that I'm not a morning
person, that I hadn't stayed in Washington and been on a plane early that day,
when planes were falling from the eastern sky.
Christie Cochrell''s parents
Planes took on an ominous significance, which hasn't ever really
gone away. At a memorial service in the
Stanford quad, three days later, all music and shared silence and prayer, it
was most poignant of all to watch a white passenger jet fly cleanly overhead,
across the cloudless sky. The first we'd
seen since that Tuesday morning, after all airports were shut down. Flying most warily to Hawaii later in
September, as scheduled, wondering if I should cancel but chosing to go
"despite," I spent three weeks there writing and reflecting on our
changed awareness of the world.
Mourning. Regrouping. Finding words for going on with, in the
process weaving in the past.
Hawai's Koala Coast Beach
I was moved to tears to see that plane passing, and willed
it—prayed for it—to stay airborne. The
things of ordinary life had taken on themselves a new weight, as ponderous as
all those angels with stone wings. And I
had taken on a kind of vigilance on their behalf, and mine, exchanging vows and
energies. (Another passes high above the
house as I write this, on a late August Sunday morning out under the olive
trees, and I realize I'm still giving my prayers for it, fifteen years later.)
Van Gogh's "Olive Trees"
Innocent peace seemed almost inconceivable to me a few days
after September 11. And it made me
deeply sad that I immediately started thinking, of my enjoyment of the gardens
and moments doing what I loved best, "how naive of me—how trivial my
interests are." But then I realized
that such doubts betray beauty and peace and what's best in the human spirit,
and stopped myself. What's good in me,
and the words I find to share that goodness or inborn capacity for beauty and
wonder and joy, justify my life. And I
hope, in small part, make up for some of the hatred and evil that there's so
much of all over the world.
photo attributed to Christie Cochrell
reminding myself of my father's words in one of his novels—"Although you
lose happiness, you do not lose the capacity for happiness."
Early photo of Christie Cochrell's parents.
I've been on a quest for the remembered peace of the cathedral
herb garden ever since. I find my peace,
find grace, in ordinary, present things. I've become more Buddhist, emphasizing
gratitude and living wholly in the moment.
I've become more pantheistic, looking for the holy everywhere, in
everything. I grab absolutely everything
that affirms life. I've become more
xenophilic, weaving together the Navajo Blessingway and the Hawaiian blessing
of boats with ti leaves; the weathered stones of abbeys and the sharing of
aloha meaning the joyful sharing of life; Saint Cecilia with her mandolin and
the Swahili Lord's Prayer, the Baba Yetu we heard sung.
Bird on Hadrian's wall. Photo attributed to Christie Cochrell
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way
that is my religion and my faith.
—Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, The Treasure of
In the Stanford Quad that first Friday after, we listened to the
Muslim call to prayer and to the fading hum of the Japanese temple bell on the
noontime air. On the first anniversary,
we joined in another interfaith ceremony, and as the temple bell sounded again
each of us took a pinch of wildflower seed from a bowl and added it to a
container of soil which was then strewn along the road that circles
campus. I thought: After the rains, when we will have all but
forgotten, there will be flowers, an intensity of color, a poignant gladdening
I've made a religion of light and happiness, like Mary Oliver in
her poem "Poppies"—
But I also say this: that
light is an invitation to
happiness, and that happiness, when it's done right,
is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive.
In Hawai'i in September 2001 I explored that peaceful island
with a keen new awareness of the lava-black shadows within the Kona blue (as I
named the color of the translucent sea).
I'd known, but hadn't ever stopped to consider what it meant, that it
was a battleground I crossed once at dusk.
That our beloved Place of Refuge sheltered warriors who came to it in
defeat. So in spite of myself I was
drawn to King Kamehameha’s war temple, The Temple on the Hill of the
Whale. Majestic white clouds mounded
behind the water-worn lava brought from the Pololu Valley to fulfill the
prophecy: “War would end when the heiau
was completed, and he had sacrificed a major chief.”
King Kamehameha in later years. Attributed to Louis Choris.
King Kamehameha's War Temple.
Below it was a wooden stand on which offerings were laid: a bunch of flowers still in their store
wrappings, a lei dried by wind and time, some shells. I had nothing to leave, I thought—until the
words came unbidden (Hamlet's powerful reiteration in the Stoppard play):
"except my life, except my life, except my life. . . ." I didn't hesitate; I vowed I'd give myself,
wholly, to Being. “Being true to plan,”
as they said on the reggae station out of Maui.
That was, and is, the only conscionable war.
John Barrymore as Hamlet in 1922
Along the water of the inlet down below, the odd still inlet
with a grove of palms where the royal village was, I found a spray of feathers,
brilliant black and white—part of a wing, a bird's wing, or the wing
itself. I picked it up and gingerly carried
it back to the platform of offerings under the war temple. Not to replace my gift of self, but to give
my prayer flight. Continuing life.
Through my being—and my writing and photography, an essential
part of what I am—I seek to exude the capacity for happiness, the joy, the
grace, that I've found can't be diminished or denied.
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
The morning of September 11, 2001, I began a new journal. I was
graduating from college that academic year and would finally leave behind all
the things I’d been expected to do, would enter the fabled real world I’d been
hearing about for so long, my life unplanned and, for the first time, truly
mine. To help me think, I woke early and rode my bike along a path that wove
through the New England woods, through fall air so misty I could see only
twenty feet in any direction. It was beautiful, though, despite the danger of
riding fast around so many blind bends, and I went to class renewed and ready
for that final year.
But as soon as I reached the English department, everything was
off. My classroom was empty and the large hall used to screen films was packed
with students. Onscreen, a live-feed from the news. I stepped inside just as
the second plane hit. The reporters babbled the little they did and the more
they didn’t know. Small specks fell from the buildings. Ashes? People. I sat.
The reporters screamed as the first tower fell. Everyone around me began to
cry. The towers fell again and again on repeat and I sat in silence, holding
the hands of the strangers beside me.
Up to that point, I’d been privileged to live a life free of
random violence, where the biggest threats were the randomness most of us
accept—illness, car crashes—nothing targeted or malicious. In the days and
months that followed, however, it was clear that the real world I was about to
enter was a changed one, one in which acts of terror didn’t just happen to
other people in other places but could happen anywhere at any time—a feeling
sadly borne out in the horrors of this past year, the police shootings of
innocent men, the mass murders, one in my hometown of Orlando.
This feeling of vulnerability is one I’ve carried with me into
my writing. The more joy I feel—being married to a woman I love, settling into
a vibrant artistic community—the more acutely I feel all that I have to lose.
Before heading to class that
morning, I’d written that I’d felt like I was “riding again and again into a
future I can not see.” This, of course, is always true, but sometimes events
occur that allow uncertainty to mist up and obscure what little we know, that
make all that we can’t see most visible of all.
Poet/ Senior Lecturer in English at Eastern Kentucky University
September 11, 2001
was a definite turning point in my life. I had already been approaching a
crossroads for a year or more, yet wasn’t sure where I should go. Much like
Frost’s experience, in which “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” I was still
trying to find myself, as I “looked down one as far as I could.”
In short, my
marriage was disintegrating. Even though we loved one another, so much had
transpired over the previous few years, it was becoming more and more difficult
to find ourselves on a common ground that was not shaking in the tumult that
our lives had become. Like the year before (2000), I had left Illinois in June
to spend two months in Cambridge, taking writing classes in Harvard’s summer
writing program. I was finally becoming the person I should be, and found
myself wondering if that person could fit into the marriage of sixteen years
with someone who had not changed, no matter how much he wished he could, just
as I could not continue as the person I had been.
My stepson had been
married just ten days before. The couple had dated for thirteen years. A
wonderful couple, full of love and happiness. His bride had said he had been
allowed to choose the wedding date. 9-1-1. “I’ll never forget that date!” he’d
said. It was a joyous and beautiful wedding. My husband and I danced together
at the reception, and seemed happy. It would be the last time, but neither of
us knew it at the time.
continued in the face of discontent and uncertainty, however. We had chosen
natural slate tiles to replace the dated carpeting in the kitchen of our home.
Something indestructible, as though we believed both of us would continue
walking around that room forever. The tiles, in various shades of gray, brown,
and dark green, would be laid diagonally to the room in order to provide a sense
of more space. It would be a difficult job, but worth the cost and time, as all
things that are meant to endure.
I had stayed home on
the morning of September 11, so that someone would be there to let in the
workman on his first day at our house. The plan was that he cut the tile in the
attached garage, then lay each tile in its place on the kitchen floor, thus
causing the least disturbance and dust to the rest of the house. As he went to
work, I turned on the television in the living room, the sound of the tile saw
scraping the air from the garage to where I sat watching Good Morning America, because I preferred Charlie Gibson to Matt
Lauer. I don’t remember the workman’s name, but I would share those horrific
moments with a total stranger.
When the first plane
hit, all the network stations went to full-on minute-by-minute coverage. At
first, it seemed that it was all an accident. News reporters seemed confused.
Just the idea that a plane had crashed into such an iconic building in the
middle of New York City was enough. I went down the hall to the screen door
dividing the garage from the main house to tell the tall man there what had
happened. He briefly came back with me into the living room to watch a few
minutes of television, then went back to the work at hand, as I continued
watching the coverage.
It was when the
second plane hit that everyone watching knew something deliberate was afoot. It
was no accident. Again, I brought the news to the workman, on his knees in my
garage. This time, as much for company, not to bear the news alone. He came
back to the living room with me. We both stood there, total strangers, taking
it all in. I still don’t remember his name.
The rest of that day
is a confused blur in my mind. News came. News changed. Another plane, crashed
in a field. Yet another, crashed in D.C. The stories of cell phone calls were
revealed. Everything seemed to be unraveling. I drove my husband for a biopsy that
afternoon, my eyes glued to the screen in the waiting room, while he was being
poked and pinched. Pictures of some of the hijackers moving through security in
Portland, Maine. The same very tiny security area we had gone through many
times while we lived in Maine and flew to the Midwest to visit family. We had
moved back to Illinois to maybe hold things together between us. It seemed
nothing was holding now.
I remembered that a writer
friend was supposed to fly from Washington D.C. to L.A. that week. Which day?
Which day? It would take three days to have any contact and to determine that
he had, indeed, been on Flight 77, but on Monday, just one day before the
attacks. He said it changed how he viewed his life from that day on. Like a
lightning strike can bring a dark landscape into stark, but bright view, 9/11
forced me to consider my own life.
That evening, the
windows open to an unseasonably warm night for September in Illinois, I heard
the cicadas thrumming in the huge oaks in the front yard. I remember thinking
that it was strange for there to be cicadas so late in the summer. Yet it seemed
that nothing had changed, that the cicadas were oblivious to the horrors of
death and destruction the day had held. I wrote this:
Left: 17 year old Cicada 1930 Attributed to Robert Evans
Right: The Angel Oak Tree in South Carolina
a puzzle box: secrets
and hidden once more
in and out like shadows
your ear to the opening
to learn precisely
tone between the cracks
cicada shells and the pealing
the silent years
the soil—still and cold
lost minutes grieving—
presence, the transforming
of seasons had no place,
singing clings in the present
of the crucified pear tree:
night and only here:
moment after the fall
shells grip the ground
in Little Fires, Finishing Line Press
published in A Stirring in the Dark, Old
Seventy Creek Press
Ultimately, 9/11 took me away from home. No one
knew then what would happen. It was not unreasonable to believe that our
country would be attacked on our own soil, and embroiled in an all-out war.
Within three months, I was a thousand miles away from Illinois, starting a new
life on my own in North Carolina, and entering into a three year, low-residency
MFA program. I thought I knew for sure where I was heading. But just as roads
disappear to where they “bend in the undergrowth,” within two years I was
settled in Kentucky, which I have called home for the past thirteen years. “And
that has made all the difference” in my life, my faith, and particularly my
On the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I
wrote what has become one of my most published poems, “This Day in Particular.”
For me, it was a cathartic experience, almost a benediction for the year we had
all endured. Since then, a lot of my poetry has related to animals, in
particular as metaphors for life in general, and often, more particularly, for
the struggles we all face, in disasters and just surviving day by day.
The Veteran In A New Field - attributed to Winslow Homer 1865
mowed the mares’ field yesterday
the sky was clear, the air dry,
would be so for days to come, or so
Farmer’s Almanac had claimed.
the baler swept the field of loosely
timothy and clover, swirling
and over, tidying the strewn field,
only stubble. “I haven’t cut
feet from off one rabbit,” you say. I
echoes of your mother’s hills
your voice, as you tell me of the time
sucker snake was caught up, bound
a bale, dying there, and how the hay,
around the rotting flesh, would have decayed.
you spread and fed it fresh to mares and foals
leaned the fence beside the barn. You tell me
too many horses spoil a tract of grass:
droppings soil the hay,
it inedible and sour.
say there is a man you know who
the legs from off twin fawns.
in the tall grass, startled to a run,
skittered from the tractor’s wheels, only
meet the mower blade eight feet
the side. How he didn’t have a gun,
in plain sight of his grandsons, seven
five, he hammered the deer skulls to death’s
But today, not one rabbit, snake, or fawn.
small child to witness. Only firm, fresh
that wait to be unbound and split
ease winter-hungry bellies of animals
stamping in their stalls or snowbound
the fields. And in that cold
fragrance of September’s grass
rise like prayer and you will not remember
day in particular, just the rest that comes
the end of the sweat, these blameless bales
the sacred smell of the living
the blessed soil.
published in A Stirring in the Dark,
Old Seventy Creek Press
published in Little Fires, Finishing
MIXED MEDIA ARTIST
Re-collections of 9/11, From Afar
As though a movie playing in my mind’s eye I can
re-call where I was on learning of what would become known as 9/11.
snatches of conversation as my Mother and I waited in a queue at a travel agent
to collect $’s for an imminent family trip to the U.S. Vague talk of a plane crash in America but
with the staff having no knowledge of any incident, we wondered if the murmurs
were misinformed. Leaving the travel
agents, at the window of a nearby electrical store, folks were huddled,
watching the bank of television screens, the sound made in-audible by the glass
window pane, nevertheless, a realization that something terrible had happened,
a sense of something untoward, a sense of foreboding. Even then we could not imagine the horror of
what had and was continuing to unfold.
for home, just about to open our front door when my mobile phone rings, my
Father asking if we had heard of an incident in New York. He was in a similar situation, only learning
of snippets of news. At this point, I
remember I had the belief a light aircraft had tragically, accidentally hit one
of the towers.
Immediately switching the television on to BBC
news, what unfolds before our eyes, the chill of the images on screen, the
disbelief, the surreal sense that although it was the news channel, this could
be an action movie. The news was consumed
with this story, footage on a loop, becoming so that we could not bear to watch
the image of the plane hitting the second tower, of people jumping for their
lives, falling to their deaths. When does news coverage become voyeuristic, it
is a thin line and one that seemed to be crossed that day.
After the shock, the loss for words at what we
had witnessed, the terror, comes the emotions on learning the personal stories,
heartbreaking words displaying the truth of the situation, this was a story
about people, ordinary people like any of us, going about their daily business,
at their work, taking a flight in the faith they would arrive safely at their
destination. We had visited NYC only three years earlier, photographed the Twin
Towers, spoken with New Yorkers, mesmerized by this special city.
I cannot say it had any effect on my faith or my
art. It did make me consider that
amongst this horror, created at the hands of humans, that what shone through
was the bravery, the selfless acts of people helping others, shoring them up,
leading the way for them, those who put the lives of others before their very
own, sacrificing their own lives and bringing sorrow to their own families so
they might spare others from facing that very same grief. The very best of humanity. We see this time and again whenever tragedy
strikes in this world of ours.
As for our trip to the U.S., yes we did commence
with that trip in that month of September.
Other than a small National Guard presence at the airport, there was no
other outwardly signs within the airport however during our trip w could not
escape the patriotism on display, emblazoned on t-shirts, shoulder to shoulder
with t-shirts depicting the hunt for bin Laden or bumper stickers with similar
sentiments. During our stay, a moment of concern as there were rumblings, what
if the U.S. went into lockdown, how would we get a flight back to Scotland? A
moment of unnecessary worry.
Horrors such as 9/11 shine a light on how small
our world is as we are all essentially the same no matter the continent we live
on, the gamut of emotions are the same for one and all. It seemed that day, everything changed, even
for those who watched it unfold from their t.v. screens - did we lose some
sense of innocence, did we all feel more vulnerable, exposed to a threat, a new
face of war that was targeting all of us who live in democracies, who value
freedom, freedom of speech.
Sometimes it seems as though the world did
change that September in 2001 and yet at the same time, it seems as though
nothing has changed at all and we are on repeat with the atrocities that
continually unfold in our world.
Poet, Fiction Writer,
Non-Fiction Writer, Pet Expert
New York, New York and
Writing for a living allows me a rare luxury few working people
share: I sleep late. After years of getting up a 7 a.m., slapping on some
make-up, and dousing myself with coffee all day in an editorial office, I
decided that I’d brave two meals a day of macaroni and cheese to slumber into
The first thing I do when I wake up, before using the bathroom
or walking my schnauzer, is check my phone messages. I take my phone off the
hook when I sleep, because agents and editors and other writer friends temping
for a living at law offices start their days far earlier than I do. There are
an average of three messages on weekdays, and one of them is always from my
mother, who remarks that I must be online.
On September 11th I climbed down from my loft at around 10:30
a.m. The dog greeted me at the foot of the ladder and I gave him a rub behind
the ears. I picked up the phone and heard the usual three-beeps. I dialed my
voice mail and my code. I had eighteen messages.
The first was from the neighbor across the hall, a conscientious
statistics Ph.D. student, asking me if I “saw what was going on.” This
particular neighbor has sensitive hearing and often calls the police about gang
fights and prostitutes cutting deals outside of our windows. I deleted it.
The second was from my childhood friend, Matthew, in Florida,
calling me “sweetie” and asking me if I was okay. I rubbed my eyes and sat
down. Deleted it.
Again, my neighbor telling me to turn on the television.
grandmother asking me to call her.
One of my editors in California.
roommate I hadn’t talked to in four years saying that if I needed to come into
Connecticut I should call her.
Ladlow, from Switzerland, telling me in broken
English that Switzerland was nice and that I could come there if I wanted to. I
didn’t know who he was, but after listening to the message three times
remembered that I had met him for five minutes in a bar about eight months
prior and gave him my number because I thought he was cute.
My mother, telling
me to call her right away. She didn’t mention me being online.
again: Nikki, where are you? Are you seeing this?
A creative writing student
of mine from two years ago calling from Santa Barbara to ask if I was okay. She
said she’d pray for me.
Being the swift writer-type that I am, I hung up the
phone without finishing the messages and padded over to the T.V.
The reception wasn’t great, but there it was—the disaster,
playing and replaying. And replaying. Three miles from my apartment.
to my neighbor’s door and knocked. She let me in and I sat down in front of her
“This has been going on all morning,” she said. “You must have
One of the towers was gone. It was just gone. The other still
stood there, burning, and within minutes we watched it crumble into black
smoke. I reached out toward the T.V. Why? I asked her. Why? I started to weep.
There were people in there.
“I don’t know,” she said. “They hijacked some planes. There’s
been a crash in Washington too.”
The reception on my television was better, so I moved back to my
apartment. All I could manage to do was stare and cry and shake. My dog sat by
the door, watching his leash.
I fixed the collar around his neck and walked
out into a magnificent day in Hell’s Kitchen.
The sky was a flawless milky blue
with a clue of fall in the air. Most of my neighbors are holdouts from the old
Hell’s Kitchen living in HUD housing units, or inmates from the mental ward on
the corner. These are not your financial types. They sat on their stoops
bickering in Spanish like any other day, smoking cigarettes, buying Italian
ices from the guy on the corner. Something dreadful was happening just a few
miles south and these people didn’t seem to know about it. The scene reminded
me of a William Carlos Williams poem about Icarus – a tragedy was happening
within earshot and everyone just turned away because they had things to do.
Painting Landscape With the Fall of Icarus 1558 attributed to Peter Brueghel the Elder
William Carlos Williams wrote "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" poem in response to Brueghel's painting.
I stopped a guy walking his two Chihuahuas and asked him if he
knew about the twin towers. “Yeah,” he said, “There’s something going on down
Something going on?
The block looked so ordinary, it was eerie.
But there was something unusual on the block, something so subtle you’d have to
really look to notice. Business suits. Everywhere. Men and women in business
suits chain smoking cigarettes outside of delis, sitting on stoops, walking
around with faces so blank it looked like their souls were sucked right out of
them. The soulless wandered the streets at an eerie hour, a time when they
should have been on their phones or at their meetings, buying low and selling
high. They looked taken-over. I wanted to comfort them, anyone. A girl in a
dark suit covered in dust passed me on my block.
The people that worked in the World Trade center weren’t just a
cliché. They were my neighbors.
Memorial marker for the firemen from the Hell's Kitchen area who lost their lives on 9/11.
Once my dog was done with his walk I tried to
make some calls but my phone didn’t want to dial out, though I received the
occasional call, mainly from my neighbor across the hall—phone service was
sketchy outside of the City. I sat on my couch holding my phone and my dog and
watched the news, teeth unbrushed, hair uncombed, face unwashed. I forgot to
eat. The planes kept crashing and the towers kept crumbling and people kept
dying and I sat there watching for something to change, for some hint of
mistake on the part of the newscasters. I wanted a “War of the Worlds” scenario
where the crashing would stop and they’d show how it was all done with
small-scale models and computer graphics.
Orson Welles tells reporters that no one connected
with the broadcast had any idea it would cause panic (October 31, 1938)
Left, H.G. Wells, Middle, Jacket cover of The War of the Worlds, far right, illustration from The War of the Worlds.
Around six p.m. I began to feel weak—not physically week, but
spiritually weak—a sense of solitude I had never felt in my life came over me
and filled my apartment with a chilly emptiness. It wasn’t loneliness. I think
it was a realization. At that moment I saw that everything I had ever done in
my life amounted to exactly nothing. I lived alone. I was girlfriend, wife, and
mother to none. I had friends, yes, but had I really been a good friend lately?
Was I a good daughter, granddaughter? Pet owner? I looked down at the dog in my
lap. I swore to myself I would never scold him again for peeing on the coffee
I decided that starving myself wasn’t going to help the situation, so I
managed to dress and take my dog and myself to the Coffee Pot café on the
corner. They had a big screen T.V. blaring the news with about a dozen patrons
surrounding it, gasping at each replay of the second plane cutting through the building,
from every angle.
Inside The Coffee Pot Cafe
I got my coffee and my croissant and sat on the red velvet
bench next to a good looking young guy who was shaking his head and muttering
between sips from his chipped maroon cup.
He nodded at me.
“Terrible, this, isn’t it?” he said.
I tore off part of my croissant and offered him some. He shook
“If only people would believe in Jesus,” he said, “This kind of
thing wouldn’t happen.” He sounded angry.
I raised my eyebrows at him.
He put down his cup. “I’m Jewish,”
he said, smiling and turning toward me. “I’m a Jews for Jesus. I’m a
missionary. My mother has been a Jews for Jesus for a long time and I said I’d
kill her pastor if I ever saw him in my house but then one day I got the spirit
and I know that Jesus is the messiah. If everyone would just know that Jesus is
God then this wouldn’t happen.” He slammed both hands down on the bench. “In
Brazil, we know about Jesus, but people here don’t. It’s a shame.” He shook his
head again. “If I bring you something to read about Jesus, will you?”
I looked at the television.
“Yes, I would,” I said. “Bring it
and I’ll read it.”
“I work here sometimes,” he said. “Come in next week and I’ll
have something for you.”
I sat at the Coffee Pot for what seemed like hours, but it was
probably around 45 minutes. The employees began to lower the iron grills over
the windows and turn chairs over, and one by one the patrons put down their
coffee cups and walked out into the street. I didn’t want to leave but I had nothing
left to eat or drink.
Back on my street, I sat on my stoop for a while, hoping someone
would talk to me about the disaster, or explain something about it, explain it
One of the upstairs neighbors, Debbie, walked out to toss her trash and
we talked. I told her I didn’t want to be alone. I had heard they needed
volunteers at Chelsea Piers where they had a triage unit set up, so I suggested
As I got ready I heard my upstairs neighbor’s boxer, Lucky,
barking furiously, and scratching at the door. This was strange, because his
owner, Leonardo, is usually home by then and I hear them playing, doggy paws
romping along my ceiling and Leonardo’s disco music blasting. As I listened,
Debbie came to my door to get me. We walked out onto the sidewalk and I looked
into the window where Lucky was still barking. It was dark.
Leonardo worked in
the World Trade Center.
I gasped and looked at Debbie and told her. We ran up
to his apartment and pounded on the door. Nothing but the dog.
I remembered that
I had asked Leonardo for his cell phone number when he moved in, so I went back
inside and dug through dozens of paper scraps until I found it. I dialed.
I don’t remember ever feeling so much relief at hearing someone’s
“I’m in the hospital,” he told me. “I’m bruised and cut up, but
I would find out later that he lost half his officemates and
many more of his friends in the disaster. He tried to help as many people as he
could, but as the building crashed all he could do was run. He suggested that I
volunteer and I told him that I was on my way.
By nine o’clock Debbie and I were milling about with hundreds of
other volunteers on a shiny basketball court next to the ice skating rink.
Everyone had tape on their chests that told who they were: MED for doctors,
nurses, and EMTs; VOLLEY for volunteers; FEMA for those folks; RED CROSS, and
so on. We couldn’t find the guy giving out the tape and I didn’t feel official
until I had a label. After asking twenty or so people where to get the tape,
someone took off his own piece of tape and pasted it to my chest. It was that
kind of evening.
The guy in charge of the volunteers, a cute college
student-looking fellow, gathered us VOLLEYs into a mass in the center of the
court and told us that he only needed around 20 people to stay and that we
should all put our names on a list and go home. Debbie and I looked at each
other. I wasn’t about to leave.
There was a television mounted in a corner of a small open room
off the court and doctors, policemen, firemen, EMTs, and various volunteers sat
around it, shaking their heads. No one spoke.
Every few minutes groups of
firemen and cops walked by, but it wasn’t their shocked faces that told where
they had just come from, though that would have been enough. It was their
shoes. Everyone walking in with shoes covered to the ankle in white dust went
immediately to a room way in the back where psychologists spoke with them.
“Poor guys,” an attractive female EMT said to me in a thick Long
Island accent. “They lost a lot of their own.” Her shoes were covered in the
dust and she had a gas mask around her neck.
“You were there,” I said.
“Yeah, I’m going back in a minute. I just came in to rest.”
There were wrestling pads set up in the next room as a makeshift sleeping area.
It actually looked comfortable.
“What’s it like?” I asked her.
“You don’t want to know.”
But I did want to know. I came out of the relative safety of my
apartment to know. It wasn’t real. How could it be real? Why wouldn’t she tell
I questioned her. She told.
I wish I listened to her first suggestion
Then she got up, said goodbye, smiled at me warmly, and went
back to the scene.
After an hour or so of watching T.V., the volunteer coordinator
came over and chose fifteen of us VOLLEYs, Debbie and myself included, to work
with FEMA to intake family members and gather information about their loved
ones for FEMA’s data base. Great, I thought, I could be of some use. This is
what I came here for. To help.
We set up rows of tables in what looked like a
children’s playroom, with its bright primary color chairs and mirrored walls,
and were briefed on what information FEMA needed.
We were told not to give the
family members too much hope. I suggested that we not talk about the missing
people in the past tense, and it was agreed that we use the present.
Debbie and I decided to work as a team—one person asking the
questions and one writing down the answers. Family members began trickling in.
The first to approach us was an older gentleman, nicely dressed, alone, with
red-rimmed eyes and a cell phone in his hand. He smelled of booze. He walked
confidently up to us and sat down. He wanted to see the list that we had of
people that were found. We told him we didn’t have a list, that we were here to
take down information.
“Then what did I come here for?” he asked.
“We’ll get your loved one on the list and then FEMA will have an
idea of who they need to look for,” I said.
“Okay,” he said, pulling himself up to the table. He took a deep
breath. “My wife is missing.”
I wrote that down.
“Her name is Barbara
Smithfield. She was 47 years old. She works at Cantor Fitzgerald.”
“She worked on the 104th,” he said.
My heart fell. He gave us the rest of Barbara’s information and
we wrote it down. I told him to keep the faith, that maybe Barbara is in the
hospital and that FEMA will find her. Then he left.
I couldn’t intake anyone
I left Debbie at the table and went back to the television room. I
couldn’t sit still, so I decided to photocopy the pages in the phonebook that
listed all the hospitals in Manhattan so that we could give copies to the
family members that came in. I talked with other volunteers. By three a.m.
family members had stopped coming in, and by four Debbie and I left. A cop
flagged down an empty city bus for us and the bus driver gave us door-to-door
service. I don’t think a city bus had ever driven down my street before that
I thought about Barbara Smithfield. I prayed for her. I couldn’t
get her husband’s red eyes out of my mind. I’ve prayed for her many times
since. Maybe she was late to work that day. Maybe she wanted a Starbucks
coffee and had to go down to the atrium to get it. Maybe she stopped to buy
someone a birthday card.
I took a shower when I got home. I felt very dirty. I could
smell the dust on me. It was an acrid smell, a scent that could only be
described as World Trade Center, a mingling of burning metal and rubber and
toxic things. It’s a smell that would linger over the area for weeks, and
sometimes, when the wind changed, I’d smell it all the way in Midtown.
climbing into my loft I checked my phone messages. Twenty-three. That’s
including the nine I didn’t listen to the in that morning. Five good friends,
two ex-boyfriends, several colleagues, my mom, my neighbor, two more students,
two friends of my parents, one adult child of my parent’s friends, and repeats
of those and others who had called before.
`How To Write A Poem After September 11th'
by Nikki Moustaki
Before the fall, the season we didn't have in Manhattan
Because the weather refused, the air refused . . .
Don't say the air smelled like smoldering desks and drywall,
Ground gypsum, and something terribly organic,
Don't make a metaphor about the smell, because it wasn't
A smell at all, but the air washed with working souls,
Piling bricks, one by one, spreading mortar.
Don't compare the planes to birds. Please.
Don't call the windows eyes. We know they saw it coming.
We know they didn't blink. Don't say they were sentinels.
Say: we hated them then we loved them then they were gone.
Say: we miss them. Say: there's a gape. Then, say something
About love. It's always good in a poem to mention love.
Say: If a man walks down stairs, somewhere
Another man is walking up. Say: He sits at his desk
And the other stands. He answers the phone and the other
Ends a call with a kiss. So, on a rainy dusk in some other
City of Commerce and Art, a mayor cuts a ribbon
With giant silver scissors. Are you writing this down?
Make the executives parade through the concourse,
Up the elevators, to the top, where the restaurant,
Open now for the first time, sets out a dinner buffet.
Press hard. Remember you're writing with ashes.
Say: the phone didn't work. Say: the bakery was out of cake,
The dogs in the pound howled. Say: the world hadn't
Asked your permission to change. But you were asleep.
If only you had written more poems. If only you had written
More poems about love, about peace, about how abstractions
Become important outside the poem, outside. Then, then,
You could have squinted into the sky on September 11th
And said: thank you, thank you, nothing was broken today.
Eastern Cape, South Africa
My memory of 9/11 – or,
rather, of those grotesque images of burning,
collapsing World Trade Center towers and
the nightmarish aftermath – is
conflated with other memories, equally disturbing, equally unfathomable. Even
now I find it hard to believe in them.
It was mid-afternoon in
England when the pictures started to come through and the story began to
unfold. I was teaching a class in Congleton, Cheshire so really had to wait
until later in the day to see what others had already seen and described to me.
Congleton Downhill in Cheshire.
At home I stared in shocked
disbelief at the television: this couldn’t be real, couldn’t be happening. It
looked like some hideous video game of war and destruction. What my then
16-year-old son and his screen-savvy friends made of it all I could scarcely
imagine. The line between actuality and sham had been crossed in an instant.
The world had become terrifyingly unreal.
Eighteen months later I
felt a similar sensation of sickened helplessness as once more I stared at the
TV screen and watched another video nasty that was not. This time, over supper
at home, we watched the monstrous firework display that was the first ‘shock
and awe’ bombardment of Baghdad.
British soldiers engage Iraqi Army positions with their 81 mm mortars south of Basra. 03/26/2003
The Iraqi war, which I
and countless others of my countrymen and women had marched through the streets
to oppose, had begun. Our political ‘leaders’ and ‘betters’ had ignored our
wishes and initiated the wholesale
slaughter of people who had no connection at all with the Trade Center attacks.
60,000 to 200,000 protestors demonstrate against the war in San francisco. 02/15/2003
In each case I had to
remind myself that within those buildings and beneath that bombardment were
real, living people – men, women and children – who were innocent of any
wrongdoing yet who were being torn to pieces for the gratification of warped
political and religious interests.
A Soldier carries a wounded Iraqi child into the Charlie Medical Center at Camp Ranad's Iraq. 03/20/2007
The world had begun its
precipitous descent into insanity.
Sometimes now it seems
to me that the only hope for humanity is in the arts, whatever form they take:
painting, dance, music, theatre or writing. For me, this means poetry.
There is invariably an
enormous urge to make some sense of horrific events, and many thousands of
poems blossomed as an immediate reaction to both 9/11 and the subsequent
invasion of Iraq. The internet overflowed with sorrow, bewilderment and anger
expressed in verse of hugely varying quality, from the excellent to the awful, yet
all of it born of a desperate need to say something, to be heard.
But ghastliness such as
9/11 cannot be made sense of, for it is completely irrational and surreal. I
couldn’t write about it; it felt disrespectful even to try.
“We sit silently and watch
the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old
are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel
content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a
waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because
only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This
is the great paradox.”
So silence is all I
produced. It was the silence not of having nothing to say, but rather of having
no way of saying it without sounding presumptuous and glib. I was mute.
begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a
quality and a dimension all its own.”
The passage of time,
however, can lend some sort of perspective.
It slowly became clear
to me that my overriding emotion about what had happened was a mixture of rage and
resentment. How dare anyone indiscriminately attack, brutalize and kill other
humans simply because those others believe in something the aggressors do not? How
dare dogma of any kind – political, religious or any other extreme ideology – take
possession of the world’s love, decency, humanity, and act as if these
qualities are of no importance? And how dare anyone, whatever the imagined
‘provocation’, presume to perform such disgusting acts in my name?
A poem I had written
earlier crept back, slightly embarrassed, to my mind:
lied. This isn’t me, this smile,
hey, please feel free to doubt it.
know. I can’t help it. Disarming.
a gift. This flashing smile,
teeth, chiselled nose, twinkling eyes –
can believe in them, can’t you?
full effect? Believe in me.
svelte, lightly-tanned openness,
striped tie, understated
you trust them, don’t you?
course you do. I do myself
daylight. Here. With the cameras.
front of the Government buildings.
Nice to see you! How’s it going?”
lied. Look, this is the truth now.
my laugh says, “Nonsense, he’s joking!”
self-deprecating, that’s all –
the more likeable for it:
trust me, don’t you, little fish?
say I didn’t warn you, but
me there – above, behind my eyes,
you noticed? Yes, that’s me
the bright tiger-shark snout, cold
jaws grinning upward
you warm to my disguise . . .
a little closer, my friend,
Unfortunately, anger often seems to bring out
the worst kind of doggerel in me, and it did so again here:
The despised Saddam
Hussein (who, it was alleged, controlled a vast arsenal of weapons of mass
destruction primed and ready to hit Britain within forty minutes, but who
actually had none at all and was never a threat to Western Europe) was
eventually rooted out and executed. He was undoubtedly a very nasty man – but he
had not had anything to do with the 9/11 attack. He was merely a convenient
scapegoat used to justify the unjustifiable.
Unaware of the seeping, marrow-slow
change in me at the time, I now look back upon all that as a period which
changed both me and my writing. Had those ugly events not occurred, I wonder
whether I would have found even the feeble voice of protest that now I possess.
Would I ever have written the following poem, for instance? I don’t think so.
scarcity, squalor, disease
avarice, lust and massacre
bloodshed, torture, crime
celebrity, ignorance and bling
something about Nairobi
a thousand other wretched places
sweat shops, jobs and slavery
poisoning, pollution and pimps
obscene nonsense of sustainable Growth
things that waste and die
we’re killing along with ourselves
elephant, rhino and lion
tiger, orang utan, pangolin
dolphin and whale
something about the planet
lovely threatened globe
me, about me, about ours
sickness of the body
the right to speak out
the heart, of the soul
sisters, brothers, sons
something about corruption
something about gods and gullibility
faith, about bigotry
daydreams and night terrors
childish compulsion to believe
peace, about hope, about life
honour, some decency
it and speak it and speak it:
For the past nine years
I have lived in South Africa, a country which, in spite of its many social and
political problems, still contains within it an enormous potential for good.
This potential, combined with its outstanding natural beauty, is what now
inspires my poetry.
The dwindling African
wilderness – represented for me by the threatened rhinoceros – is an urgent message
to all of us not to throw away that which is wonderful in life in the name of
greed, profit and expediency. But still we do it.
in September 2011, I was mostly bedbound due to severe Myalgic
Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). I could not walk to the
bathroom, couldn't feed myself and had little speech. I was looked after by
mum visited me on 11th September and said that something had
happened in the USA. She was trying to contact my sister who lived in
Washington to see if she was okay. When she had gone, I listened to the news.
It seemed especially unbelievable that more than one place had been targeted at
the same time– locations that held such deep symbolism for the American people.
am perhaps one of the few people who has never seen the image of the planes
flying into the towers. I couldn’t watch TV at that time due to the pain level
in my eyes.
day, my Somali caregiver came to look after me. She was upset about the
tragedy. The next day, she was quieter than usual– devastated to discover that
Muslims were behind the attack. I couldn’t write due to muscle fatigue in my
hands and arms, but several weeks later I dictated the following poem onto a
dictaphone. I received it back from the typist some time afterwards.
World's famous figure Iman from Somalia.
towers come down in New York.
see in her beautiful Somali face
at the suggestion, the thought
people of her own race
eyes shining with faith,
never be involved in this.”
day, I watch her go sadly about her work –
shock that so-called people of Islam
be the ones to bring such harm.
attacks on those who wear the veil,
discussions in the mosque:
we take them off?”
decision to keep the veils on –
trust in Allah’s protection;
walk her peaceful talk with pride;
ride the waves of insult with composure;
tolerate the attacks with understanding
hope to God they’ll soon be over.
of ignorant, isolated
time was tight and caregivers were reluctant to read the care plan. I needed all
my little speech to ensure that they carried out the basics. The list repeated
itself four times a day: prepare food, feed me, leave snacks by the bed, fill a
flask of hot water, fill a hot water bottle, empty the commode. On 12
September, the caregiver helped me out of the flat in my electric wheelchair
and I met a neighbour who was panicking about the possibility of terrorists
poisoning the water supplies. I put it in the category of ‘something that may
not happen’. Life was about just getting on with the next thing that came up.
some people 9.11 will have raised the question “Where is God in this?”, with
the possible conclusion that there is no God of love. But I was already aware
that many people around the world were fighting in similar ways to myself– to
persevere through pain, to get food in their body or to maintain their sense of
worth in a world that gave them little reason to do so. If I was going to lose
my faith, I would have done so already. For me, the awareness of the horrors
that took place on that day only strengthens my commitment to connect with the
Love that shines beneath the surface of this world. The apparent division
between races or creeds only strengthens my resolve to connect with the Unity
that we share in God.
2008, after 14 years bedbound, I experienced significant healing. I regained
speech and was able to build up the use of my arms and legs to function at a
higher level. The photo below shows me on Hackpen Hill in Wiltshire. I
celebrate the freedom of finding myself once more out and about in a landscape
those of you who lost someone on 9.11 or suffered a blow to your own sense of
safety, my heart goes out to you. I wish you continued healing.
Katherine Owen runs the popular content websites www.healingcfsme.com and www.a-spiritual-journey-of-healing.com.
She is author of Be Loved Beloved – available on kindle and lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/katherinetowen).
Katherine was a winner of Rethink Your Mind in 2015. Her poetry has been
published in the magazines Caduceus Journal, Domestic Cherry, IMPpress and
Grafitti; also in various anthologies and online. She contributed a chapter to
the Amazon bestseller, Radiant Survivor. She gives talks, performs her
poetry in Festivals, and has been interviewed on youtube and on radio shows.
Sign up to her websites to receive a free book or to hear about upcoming books.
What is your personal
experience of 9/11?
Months before Sept 11, 2001, I had resigned
commission as a Lieutenant in the US Navy Nurse Corps at 28 years old
next year or so was a period of hesitation in my life. Though I had always
dreamt of moving on to a career in art, I was reticent to leave nursing after
working diligently for many years to attain my degree and experience as a Post
Anesthesia Care Nurse in the field. During that time of limbo, I took per diem
jobs as a contract nurse in various civilian hospitals in San Diego where I had
been stationed during my active duty years.
was during that time of in decision that one morning, I woke up to the smoking
towers on the news. 9/11
had begun as a normal day for me: exhausted from yesterday's 12 hour shift at a
new hospital, stumbling to the kitchen to make coffee with the dogs darting
around my feet, flipping on the news in the living room along the way. Like
many of us in the United States, I watched the events unfold all day. Initially
I was at a loss to comprehend the images and words on the screen. As the footage of the second plane hitting
the tower was repeated on CNN several times, I began to grasp what was
happening though it
took some time: I had no reference points for this. During
my lifetime, there had been no violence of this scale on North American soil.
For days after, aside from the hours I
would be at work, I was there in front of the television, taking in every
detail, trying desperately to process the information.
attended a suburban high school in northern
Jersey, New York had been "The City", and the Manhattan skyline was a
symbol of excitement, success, progress. Back then, if you snuck out on to my
roof, stood on your toes, and the sky was clear enough, you could catch a
glimpse of it from my house in the suburbs.
New York City in August 0f 2011
it was only 30 minutes away by car, it seemed to
be another world...it represented the possibility of what
lay beyond the realities of daily life in a small town high school.
'92, I left for college in Philadelphia. In 1997 I received my Navy commission
and was stationed in
San Diego, where I would remain for many years.
2011, the New York skyline had become a fixed memory, much like a childhood
friend or first grade teacher, the halls of your high school: since the last
time you saw them, they don't change.
New York City in August 2011
would never have imagined that the towers could fall...They were heroes in my
mind. I remember in the days following
9/11/2001, the feeling that my environment had changed, that it was no longer
safe. I wondered if there would be another attack, when, and where. I watched everything around me carefully. But
I soon realized that in my immediate environment, it was me that had changed ...that
the world had never been "safe".
Safety was an illusion left over from my fairly comfortable upbringing.
I had lost this illusion. At the same time I became aware that for many people around the world and even here in
the United States, that this illusion had never even existed.
that I had memorized facts about in high school history class in order to pass
tests to move onto
the next grade suddenly came flooding back to me in three dimensions. Among the
most poignant images in my mind were those of the individuals trapped in the
burning towers, jumping to their death in order to avoid an even more horrific
to think that all we give to this life could lead to a moment when you'd be
forced to make the decision to stay in 1000C heat in a burning building, or fall to your death within 10 seconds. I realized
that hatred is truly a powerful force whose consequences can reverberate
How did 9/11 influence
your art and/or your faith?
attacks of 9-11 were among the events
during that period in my life that created a new sense of urgency in me.
With that illusion of safety disintegrated, I made the decision to pursue my
passion for sculpture, which is now my occupation. So in a sense, it was one of the forces that
sent me on this journey.
highest goal in art would be to make a cultural contribution-to compose a
meaningful moment in time that has the possibility to inspire the opposite of
hatred in someone or some group of people. I now think of art as a form of communication
that has the potential to form empathy between strangers.
September 11, 2001, I was 34 weeks pregnant, and anxious. Anxious not only
about having a second child, but that I’d elected for a vaginal birth after
cesarean, or VBAC. While the risk of
uterine rupture is low, it’s a high stake. Very few doctors, especially in the
rural area where I lived, were open to this option, but I’d found one who was.
As a backup, if anything went wrong, I’d have a second c-section, and I was
okay with that. What I was not prepared for was the moment my colleague walked
into my office at the small college where I worked, pausing at my door, her
eyes clouded. She told me that planes
had just crashed into the World Trade Center. At that time, we did not know
this was an act of terrorism. I immediately pulled up the news on my browser,
felt my stomach plummet, cold chills run up my arms.
day unfolded slowly. Part of me wanted to rush to daycare to pick up my
three-year old and to call my husband to meet us at home. But I stayed at the
office. By late morning, I found myself in the student center with other
colleagues, all us silently watching the news, not knowing what to say, only
that we wished not to be alone in our offices or classrooms.
Rosemary's three year little girl in 2001.
my youth, I’d spent segments of my summers in Rockland County, a suburb forty-five
minutes north of NYC where my grandparents lived. Going to New York was both
exhilarating and scary; my earliest memory is of being told not to look as a
man in bellbottoms took a piss in the gutter next to the bus station. Not
surprisingly, I was always somewhat scared of the city -- its energy and its
chaos jolted my sensitive nature. Luckily, my grandparents rarely traveled into
the city anymore, and they were safe at home during the attacks. So many others
Overlooking Rockford with the NYC skyline in the distance.
connect the dots of our lives mainly in hindsight. As I look back to 9/11, I
realize that my first thoughts were self-centered: they were about me and the
imminent delivery of my baby. Would I be safe? Would the hospital be open? What
if I had to deliver on my own? Would my baby be okay? Rumors floated that the power grid would go
down, and as I drove home that day, I passed long lines at gas stations. There
was a fear that the US was going to continue to be under attack, and I was
scared and shaky.
weeks later I delivered my son with no major complications. After his birth, my
family and I were infused with energy and the recognition of the miracle that a
body can grow and deliver a healthy child. But that joy was tempered with the
shock of terror still reverberating, as envelopes with anthrax followed the
attacks, keeping us all on edge. I was glued to the television as I nursed my
son, the adrenaline and anxiety flowing through me and most likely to him, too.
I should not have been as surprised then, when my boy was two, that the
darkness that followed his birth, the darkness I’d been attempting to wade
through on my own, was not going to lift on its own accord. Ironically, I was
in New York at a writers’ conference, where I met another female poet (Van Henderson) from
Georgia. We bonded immediately. Her support and friendship gave me the courage
to seek out a psychiatrist.
Rosemary and Poet Van Henderson at Sarah Lawrence College.
it post-partum? Sure. But I also believe that 9/11 and the fear and anxiety
that followed had a significant role in my depression. Our nation had been
attacked, violently. We all felt it. We all had to process it in some fashion.
Many of us born at the end of the Vietnam era had only a slim frame of
reference for war fought abroad or on our own soil. As if in a reflex, I turned
to writing to cope with my darkness. I wrote not for form or quality, but in
order to give my depression a shape -- a shape I could put in a journal and
then shut and never re-read unless I chose to -- it was/is cathartic. I was
pushed express myself, or else. I had to deliver the life inside.
wrote and wrote and wrote, attended workshop after workshop, and filled journal
after journal. One evening I looked at my pile of journals and wondered how
much I’d spent on them. I decided to make my own. Why not? I like to keep
multiple journals going, so I would enjoy the variety and maybe save some
money. Like my poems, my first attempts at journal making were earnest and full
of learning curves, with a promising line here and there. I was determined,
though, to create a journal that I’d use in public. I had never felt that I
could be described as artistic, but hours of time slid away as I focused on my
new craft. My journal making became an endeavor that served more than my desire
to have something to write in -- it became a positive ritual of both release
and creation. It became something to do in the quiet of my porch.
porch or “craft room” as I sometimes call it is a room off the den of the house
that has been enclosed. In a way, I’m outside as I create, and this space is my
sanctuary. It’s where I go to detach, to recharge, to express myself in a way
that I thought was off-limits to me. The process of making journals is just as
valuable as the end product. Last weekend, I created two journals for a friend,
who has recently lost her mother. She gave me a favorite skirt of her mom’s,
along with three buttons. With reverence, I made the covers of the journals
from the skirt, and the closures with the buttons.
in our lives are like water in a stream. They constantly flow around us,
sometimes traumatizing us, sometimes surprising us, sometimes scarring us, but
always in motion. We cannot control the world around us -- war, birth, death --
but we can participate in making beauty out of it, persevering after we fall or
succumb to the dark. My sanctuary is comprised of my words and my art, having
being built only after experiencing some of the most powerful pains and joys of
my life. I found my ritual, my process, my way of worship.
I awakened to a beautiful and
promising day on September 11, 2001. The
view outside my window showed large oak trees in a serene neighborhood in
central Mississippi. My husband and I
prepared for the day like most others, but with special evening plans to
celebrate my birthday.
500 year old oak in Biloxi, Mississippi
Much of the day is a blur
My annual medical visit was
scheduled that morning and I recall seeing a snip of the television news before
leaving the house to drive the few minutes away. But the sound was turned down and I never
realized the impact of the visuals as I hurried to down the coffee in my cup
and start for the car.
By the time I arrived at the
medical facility, from the radio news I began to understand the horrors
happening in NYC and other locations around the country.
At my doctor’s office we sat together not as
medical professionals and patient, but as Americans, sitting mostly in stunned
silence as the television coverage sliced through our lives with the terrible
wound of that day.
But, as I said, much of that
day is a blur to me now. Tears fell down
my face as I drove toward my art studio.
Nothing very productive happened at my easel that day. My painting became dark and hollow.
That evening, my husband was
insistent that my birthday be celebrated and not become a victim of 9-11. It was a valiant effort. Such a tragic day.
Virginia and husband summer of 2016
The events of 9-11 brought us closer
together as a nation, as part of the civilized world. It led me to create art that not only brings
to light a part of myself, but it increased the importance of expressing
through the line, shape, forms, space, color, and texture of my own paintings a
work by which others are touched in a positive manner.
What I bring to the canvas has an intimacy
that is so very important to me, but its greater achievement is how the work
itself speaks to an audience. Whether a
painting depicts flowers or figures or landscape or something totally
non-objective, the true essence of the art defies explanation in simple words.
To be successful my work must have the strength to stand alone and hold its own
place in the lives of others.
paintings are like children that begin fresh and then grow and, when mature, I
send them out to do their part in the world.
Charlotte, North Carolina
HOW 911 AFFECTED MY WRITING LIFE
I’ll begin thirty-two years before 911. As a senior
in college in 1968, I heard a lecture by a naval officer pursuing an advanced
degree in geopolitics. He read excerpts from his thesis, Prospects for Peace in the Middle East. At the time, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflicts took up most of the world’s attention, or at
least that part of the world that was not embroiled in Viet Nam. The lecturer delved
into the history of the Middle East, the founding of the modern State of
Israel, the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, and the seeming inability
of the two sides to reach any sort of lasting peace with each other. The
lecture ended with this conclusion regarding prospects for peace in the Middle
East: “There are none.”
I doubt the lecturer, who had studied the region in
great detail, foresaw how terrifyingly true his conclusion would become. He may
have predicted the ongoing conflicts between Sunnis and Shias. I doubt that he
envisioned a terror attack on the US on the scale of Pearl Harbor. I doubt he foresaw
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise and fall of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda,
or the emergence of ISIS.
Al Qaeda militant in Sahel 2012
It was a lecture I can’t forget. Its premise–that
the Middle East wars will not end in the foreseeable future—keeps renewing
itself like a lifetime subscription.
My life as a poet had a false start in the 1980s,
when I dabbled briefly in poetry, then quit poetry to make a living in the
business world. I picked up the pen again in the late 90s. I had hardly begun
to write poems when the 911 attacks occurred. I wrote this one shortly
afterward, though it was not published until ten years later:
*First appeared on “NC Poets on 9/11” (North Carolina Arts Council),
commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When I wrote “September 11,” I was smitten by
feelings of sadness, fear, foreboding, and—having recently flown in airplanes
similar to those that struck the World Trade Center—struck with amazement that,
through pure luck, I was still alive when so many had been killed. I remember,
too, that many, or maybe most of us were reluctant to fly again.
Political poetry is not my specialty, and war is
an extension of politics. Still, when 911 occurred, it affected me personally
and I felt compelled to write about it. Whether anyone else saw the poem or not
seemed unimportant at the time.
I do write a good deal of humorous poetry, and
911 had a curious effect on that, meaning it affected what Americans in general
saw as funny, and what I as a poet saw as funny. Immediately following 911, I
withdrew a poem that I had submitted to a magazine because I felt it would have
been poor judgement (by me and the magazine) to publish it at the time.
TO READ ON THE PLANE*
to find nothing left to read in the briefcase.
kid is standing in the seat in front of me, watching
I unzip and zip the pockets. Paperback
flight delay. Book of poems, read three times.
had my fill of papers and notes. The kid stares at me
the seat, snot running down his lip. In-flight magazine,
issue as the last two rides. An unworked crossword
the day as the flight attendants begin to whisper.
lady next to me fidgets, stirs her drink,
speak. The puzzle is not difficult
I write lightly in ink until I’m sure of the word.
voice from the cockpit asks us to fasten our seatbelts.
stumped on a four-letter word for "disguise," starts with V.
kid whines as his mother snatches him down,
him in. Could it be "veil?"
No. I thumb through
ads, waiting for the word to come. Outside the window,
billowy and gray, thicker than smoke.
pilot weaves us in and out, threading us through the maze.
can't be right. I try another word in 26 down,
the page a little as the plane dips.
empty cup floats off the tray. I catch
little hatches pop open overhead. A yellow oxygen mask
as suddenly as a hummingbird at a geranium.
it. M-A-S-K. The puzzle is solved.
*First appeared in Scythe
Aside from the merits
of the poem, whether you like it, hate it, or do or don’t think it’s funny, the
intention of the poem was to elicit a chuckle from the reader on the ironic
fixation of the main character, so completely absorbed in his crossword puzzle
that he ignores the danger around him. Immediately after 911, I felt that poems
(or stories, jokes, etc.) about planes in danger of crashing were anything but
funny. (Jokes about what the cannibals had for dinner aren’t funny, either,
when it’s you or your loved ones on the menu.) The more general point, it seems
to me, is that people will laugh at lots of things, but not when it reminds
them of losses that are recent and personal.
I remember watching
M*A*S*H on television in the 80s. My brother and I thought it was hilarious,
and so did most Americans, apparently. The show was a big hit and stayed on the
air for years. We asked my father, who had served in World War II and Korea, to
watch the show with us. “You’ll like it,
Dad,” we said. “It’s a war comedy.”
My father scoffed. “There’s
nothing funny about war,” he said. And off he went to the living room to read
Whitman and listen to his 8-tracks.
Maybe it’s just
obvious that we can make jokes about tragic events, wars, and other gruesome
subjects when we have enough distance (in time or space) from the
subject. I left “Nothing to Read on the Plane” out of my first book of poems,
which came out in 2004 when 911 still rubbed us raw. Only when I had kept it in
the drawer for ten years did I feel that it was at last “safe” to publish it.
By then, we as a nation had lurched from war to war and crisis to crisis several
times over, so the association between the planes in the 911 attacks and the
plane in my poem had all but disappeared.
911 still lingers, in
ways that are probably permanent for me. It seemed that the world became a more
violent and dangerous place on that day. Perhaps that’s an illusion, perhaps
the world has always been this violent, this dangerous. So maybe the real
difference is that I had hopes before 911 that peace was just around the bend
from where we were then; as if angels were guarding over us, preserving the
peace. But where were they then? Where are they now?
when the plane hit the tower,
caused a stir at the office
as I returned to my keyboard,
another plane, another tower
to theirs, riveted revenge
our collective anger bloom
and some who were suspects
and some who were simply in the way.
the children of our enemies
have rung the bell of war
and the President’s promise—
a fantasy no one believes.
Armed and Luminous, by Richard Allen Taylor,
forthcoming in 2016 from Main Street Rag Publishing Company.
While the condition
“no boots on the ground” may have been partially achieved, we still have some
military personnel in the Middle East, and sadly, it might be necessary to send
troops there again, if terror attacks on our homeland become more frequent and
more deadly. As a poet and writer, I see more poems and articles about violence
in my future. I’d prefer to write about love, food, and nature. But that
lecturer I heard in 1968 seems to be as right today as he was then. The
prospects for peace in the Middle East are slim to none, and so it goes for the
rest of the world.
Stays Apart: Faith in Art, My Father & 9/11
My husband whispered when he bent to wake me,
“Babe, wake up. Come see this. Something terrible is happening.”
While disbelief held sway, I telephoned my
father, waking him up.
New research tells us that memory isn’t actually
static, but that it changes as we do. Since the death of my elderly father, my
personal memory of 9/11 has shifted. Now I remember it through his absence. The
to-be-expected personal loss (my father was 93 when he died) has increased my
kinesthetic understanding of the enormous and violent personal impact that 9/11
wrecked on so many lives.
Over the course of my life, my father was the
one person with whom I consistently shared a lot of the things that mattered
That morning on the phone, his disbelief was
auditory, “No, no,” he kept repeating, his voice heavy with sleep, as he walked
to turn on his television set. Now no matter how bad a thing that might occur
and no matter how good a thing may, it takes place in a world that my father is
absent from. My memory to 9/11 is not what it was the day the twin towers were
hit and for many years afterward.
day, sometime after 9/11, my father told me that when he saw the clips on TV of
people jumping from the towers, “That’s what people did during the Depression.
It was in very different circumstances but that part of this awful thing
happened in New York before.”
Not long before 9/11, I’d been visiting
the city and had been taken to dinner at Windows on the World; my cousin Joe
and Ann were excited to bring me to this restaurant so high up in the sky.
Though we’ve not lived there for a long time, my family comes from New York
City. No matter the distance at which I was living away from the city, no matter
the number of years, it has remained reliably home. Even in Manhattan’s crazy
abundance, speed, and dissonance I’d felt it to secure, indestructible. But
after 9/11, for a time in my thinking, the city, my city, felt frail, and I
felt badly, guilty, even, at being far from my first place. After the initial
shock of 9/11, what I was left with is, “OK, so this can happen on our shores.”
We are now the same as any other place; it was an odd leveling.
My father was a talented artist who
couldn’t make art. No matter how much he wanted to, no matter how he tried to
sneak up on it through buying gorgeous shades of paint and the fine animal-hair
brushes he coveted, his inner demons refused him that pleasure. For years I
tried to find ways to help make it possible for him to paint but I could never
succeed. My father had no faith in his art, in his ability to make art, in the
value of what he might create.
could make art—I could write and make collages, I could, I can, and I do. My
father saw my writing published, and he was pleased when he encountered himself
in my writing; he recognized my successes with visual art.
When one of my collages made a book cover he and
I clinked glasses. Though I unintentionally shone a light on his inability, his
frailty, something I’ve always felt bad about, I also know I did him proud.
Ultimately, the events of 9/11 have strengthened
my faith in art. If we are as vulnerable as we obviously are, I’ll make art to
cope and interact with that reality. Art mirrors the interiority of experience,
and sometimes, of course, its exteriority, too.
If I am wrung out by grief, I’ll write my way
through it. The art—writing, painting, and music—of others also walks me
through my most difficult times and accompanies me in my most joyous. I make art
and write for all that is lost, for all that is at risk of being lost, but
mostly, I write and make art to celebrate life.
Making art and writing connects me with others,
to those in my local community and to those beyond it. Expressions of
imagination restore my faith in possibility, in memory, in goodness, in
transformation, in the knowledge that everything and everyone is connected, and
in the shared beauty that the luck of life is. Even when the worst things that
may happen, and do.
Vecchione’s newest book is Step into
Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life (Simon &
Schuster). Her previous nonfiction work is Writing
and the Spiritual Life: Finding Your Voice by Looking Within (McGraw-Hill).
She’s also the author of two collections of poetry and the editor of many
anthologies for children, young adults, and grown-ups. Patrice teaches writing
and collage workshops.
morning of 9/11 my wife woke me saying a plane had crashed in New York, we
turned on the TV just in time to see the 2nd plane fly into the 2nd tower.
Stunned we watched in dis-belief. How could this happen in America as the
morning unfolded I guess I went to work stunned.
managed a small art gallery on our town main square, true American setting
Courthouse in the middle surrounded by huge old oak and maple trees. The town
was filled with tourists and mid morning I notice that the streets were filled
with the local police and sheriffs deputies with their guns drawn advancing
towards our courthouse, they were yelling to all the people to get off the
streets, My first thought OMG not here, turned out that someone was giving
expert testimony at a trial and had a rifle showing it as evidence and someone
walking by the door and saw the rifle and called the police. Whew!!!!!!!!
life at this time was going through many changes due to medical issues and I
decided that it was time for me to do what I always wanted to do pursue my art
career. Our children were gone from home and my wife was enjoying her career so
it was a good time to change.
medical issues worsened and I had to retire early. I had been creating large
landscapes and could no longer do these large pieces and saw an article on
miniatures, I decided to pursue and WOW good things happened, I got gallery and
national recognition and my work started selling.
faith has always been a private conversation between God and me and with
everything that happened from that fateful day deepened my faith, there were
and still are many challenges as my years wane and I am still constantly
searching new venues. This year after 2 mini-strokes and being totally
paralyzed on my left side for over half a day I have recovered with just some
minor issues. This year after the mini strokes I decided that I was going to
expand my styles of painting and have ventured into impressionist and abstract
more and am finding such peace.
years ago my wife and I celebrated our 50th anniversary and since we had never
had a honeymoon we went to Maui, this is when our lives totally changed we fell
in love with the islands and the people and the aloha spirit. We have returned
many times and plan many more while we are still able to.
paintings now have a lot of the islands in them.
9/11 my life and faith has changed knowing that the world is now in turmoil and
not knowing what will happen from day to day. I enjoy our grandchildren and the
many new friends world wide we have, and just enjoy life and strive to capture
the beauty of our earth.
Pennsylvania, September 11, 2001 dawned blue and gold, my Shanksville-Stonycreek
High School colors. I called Mom that morning. She still lived in the house
where I’d grown up. I’d been planning a visit but was overwhelmed with work. “I
think I’d better wait till Thursday, if that works for you.”
We chatted a while,
and then I headed to the shower and Mom went to start some laundry. I was still
in the shower when my phone rang.
“Oh, Susan, the
world is coming to an end!” My editor from the local weekly started reeling off
facts faster than my brain could absorb them. I snatched at fragments, trying
to make sense of them: two planes had hit the World Trade Center, one hit the
Pentagon, another came down in Somerset County.
My heart jolted.
“Where in Somerset County?”
“My mom lives in
“Wait a minute.”
She quickly checked. “Does your mom live anywhere near Indian Lake?”
The world stopped.
“About five miles away.” I later learned that the plane had come down a lot
closer than that.
My editor had
wanted me to start making phone calls for an article about the response of our
local school districts to the terrorist attack. But at that point, all I could
think of was Mom. I dialed her number with fumbling fingers and got a
recording: “This call cannot be completed...”
Why? Had the plane
crash disintegrated the phone line? Or had it destroyed the house with her in
For the next few
hours, I dialed and re-dialed, praying until I finally got her.
It turned out the
plane crashed barely a mile and a half from her house. It left a huge crater,
black not from coal dust, but from incineration. My cousin called her from
work, to ask if his house was still there. His was the last call to get through
before all lines in and out of the county were jammed. For the next several
hours, she told me, vehicles streamed past the house on our backcountry
road—rescue vehicles, news units, and military.
Growing up, I’d
felt safe in our little town where everybody knew everybody—and most were
related to each other. Just a few houses, a small church, woods, and fields.
I’d often told my kids, “If anything happens, we’ll head for Grandma’s house.
We’ll be safe there.” But now, the world and its problems had gotten there
ahead of me.
Once reassured Mom
was safe, I went back to work for the newspaper, making my calls and writing my
article. A while later, the phone rang. My three kids were in the high school
office and my daughter was crying. The principal had initially refused to let
them use the phone, not realizing how very close that crash had been, which
contributed to my kids’ growing panic.
I was so glad I’d
gotten through to Mom before they called, and was able to reassure them. I
resisted their request to come straight home, said I’d see them soon, and then
asked to speak to the principal. I still needed quotes for my article.
The next two days
were a national nightmare. The skies were empty, apart from military aircraft.
The enormity of what had happened, the massive hole that had been ripped
through all our hearts, was impossible to process.
Debris of Flight 93 found at crash site. The United
Airlines "Battleship Gray" livery used on the aircraft is visible.
But suddenly, we
weren’t so conscious of our pigeonholes. We weren’t so much a certain race,
religion, or ethnicity. Not so much urban, rural or suburbanite. Not wealthy or
homeless, liberal or conservative. Not Californians, New Yorkers, Southerners,
or Midwesterners. We were Americans. Many people, I suspect, woke up for the
first time to the realization of how much they loved this country. We loved
each other. We crowded into prayer services. We drew together, mourned
together, and together pulled the torn pieces of our collective heart back over
that gaping hole.
But how had this
atrocity changed my hometown? It had always been a good place, with good
neighbors who looked out for each other. I wondered if our little town, where
everyone knew everyone, could ever survive this. Nonstop international news
coverage posted updates from New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville. Could
my father or grandparents—all in their graves for years at that point—ever have
imagined something like this?
The third day, I
went to see Mom. When I got off the turnpike in Somerset, and turned toward
home, even the road seemed weirdly empty, like the skies. The Armory parking
lot was full of military vehicles, though. It had been turned into a temporary
morgue. All along Route 281, and the pull-around in front of Friedens
Elementary, flags flew. Handmade signs said, “God Bless America.” Handwritten
messages of sympathy for family members cropped up all along the way.
In this surreal
new world, I felt a rush of warmth and pride. I knew—although everything had
changed in an instant—we were still the same here.
A strange car sat
in my mother’s driveway. My sister-in-law Wendy, in New York City on business,
had been staying in a hotel near the World Trade Center. She’d been scheduled
to leave September 11th. With all planes grounded, and car rental computers
down, she’d finally convinced a rental agency employee to hand-write a contract
for her, so she could get home. She’d taken an overnight break at Mom’s on her
way back to Dayton, Ohio.
Wendy offered to
ride with me to a news briefing at the site, and help gather information. Where
I used to catch the school bus there was now a security checkpoint. I shared my
credentials and was passed through.
We followed the
school bus route for another mile to a field being used as a staging area.
Behind the sunflowers blooming along the edge of the road, satellite trucks and
Red Cross tents sprouted like some kind of alien crop.
reporters from CNN, a stone’s throw from a farmhouse where I used to babysit,
and another where we’d had 4-H meetings, I felt another disconnect. Until I
heard the Somerset County Coroner, Wallace Miller, speaking. Until I heard
emergency workers thanking the neighbors for not only accepting the disruption,
but also offering food and coffee and bathrooms—and even leaving their house
keys when they went to work. Everything shrank back to human scale again, and I
Wally Miller, Somerset County Coroner, weeps as he is
acknowledged by Congressman Mark Critz of Pennsylvania’s 12 district, unseen,
during the Flight 93 National Memorial Service near the crash site of Flight 93
in Shanksville, Pa.
Whatever was taken
from us as a nation—and specifically from families and friends who lost loved
ones—they hadn’t taken our souls. Nothing has given me greater pride in the
years since 9/11 than hearing the bereaved family members say they feel a bond
with the people of Somerset County. My heart swelled when I read a Red Cross
account that said: “When the buses carrying family members to and from the
crash scene went by, adults and children lined the roads, shoulder to shoulder,
hands over hearts, holding American flags, and totally silent.”
We may have been a
town where everybody knew everybody and most of us were related. But when the
world came to our door, and innocent people were suffering unspeakable loss,
they were cared for with all the love of friends and family. That is the spirit
of my small town—the true spirit of America.