Friday, September 9, 2016

PART TWO An Online Illustrated Anthology: 9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience Part Two

Christal Cooper 

PART ONE:  An Online Illustrated Anthology: 9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience

PART TWO:  An Online Illustrated Anthology: 9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience

PART THREE:  An Online Illustrated Anthology: 9/11: The Artistic & Spiritual Experience

An Online Illustrated Anthology:  

9/11:  The Artistic & Spiritual Experience
Part Two

20 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 faith?  
     Their responses, photos, and examples of their artwork and/or symbols of their spirituality are included in this blog post.       



Writer, Artist, Musician
Enterprise, Mississippi

"In the adventure/journey of our lives, we are at our best when we are grounded in the struggles that strengthen relationships and engage our talents."
       Kent Allen

I was watching Good Morning America when the tragic events of 9/11 streamed into my living room. The image of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, while I held my coffee mug in midair suspension, was oddly surreal. The remainder of that day was spent in dazed confusion as I huddled with friends and colleagues, attempting to make sense of the unthinkable.

Flight 175 explodes after hitting the South Tower.  CCBYSA2.0

Skipping ahead to the weeks and months that darkly followed, the consensus of the country was that someone - a group, a culture, a religion - must pay for the mass murder that 9/11 surely was.  Our nation quickly settled on the Old Testament rule of vengeance: an eye for an eye and so on. We simply disregarded the transforming messages of Jesus and the other great teachers to seek nonviolent responses to such an act.      

     And now the wars and carnage spins from the vortex of 9/11 into the seemingly unending horror that engulfs our planet. 

   I propose that the main work of those who have chosen, or been chosen, to work in the humanities (artists, writers, poets, dancers, musicians, theater) become a major voice and vision to demand and lead humankind toward the healing and compassion that this world so desperately needs.

       * Kent Allen is a writer, artist and musician. He is the author of The Chronicles of Embritt (2016, amazon) a young adult scifi, adventure novel.


Goodlettsville, Tennessee

I did not learn about the catastrophe that had occurred to The North Tower on 9/11, until after I had dropped off my three-year-old son at his nursery on the Yale Divinity School campus and turned on the radio in my car. It was nearly nine a.m. when I pulled into my apartment building’s driveway four blocks away, and by that time, the anchors on WCBS Newsradio 880 were reporting that a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I picked up my son from school, and instead of returning to our own apartment, we went to our neighbors’ home across the hall. There, I called my sister Jennifer, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, on a wireless landline. My neighbors and I were watching when a commercial jet crashed into the second tower. Because Jennifer did not own a television, I narrated the events to her. We do not know how long we held on to one another through the landline after the South Tower fell. She suggested contacting our family to reassure them that my son and I were safe. My cell phone was unable to reach anyone: my husband who was teaching at the University of Connecticut and on lockdown, any of my family or friends, in particular my sister- and brother-in-law and friends in Manhattan. I was only able to reach Jennifer. We did not want to let one another go. When I recall that day, I feel the weight of the phone in one hand and the weight of my son on my hip, held in the other. I held my son and described to my sister how people were falling out of the sky.

                                               April with son Henry.

Reflecting on how that day and its bewildering and overwhelming events have shaped my art has been a deeply provocative exercise. I have avoided Ground Zero and the new One World Trade Center. It is more than because it is too painful. I felt vulnerable and sick with grief over the victims and for the people searching for their loved ones. I do not want different images in my memory. 

I have been radically changed as much as our culture has by what happened; in particular by the magnitude of loss and suffering and the scope of people’s immediate, generous responses. Thousands answered the call of their vocations to give over their lives to helping others and thousands more reacted out of irresistible compassion. Although I was not writing fiction at the time of 9/11, there are repetitive themes that occur in my work, reflecting that day and the agony of events that followed. My characters discover the resilience of relationships while struggling with loss, grief, sorrow, confusion, weariness, revenge, justice, compassion, mercy, and love. They do terrible things to one another, and they exceed themselves.

       *April Bradley is from Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline near New Haven, Connecticut. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Narratively, among many fine others.


Fogelsville, PA

What is your personal experience of 9/11?
I live in rural northeastern Pennsylvania; on that clear blue morning, I was walking my black lab in the woods.  

When I came home, I turned on NPR while I did the breakfast dishes.  I soon realized this wasn't a single-engine plane that had gone astray and crashed into a building, that it was something much, much larger.  I turned on television in time to see the towers fall. . . . Some of my friends had adult children who worked in NYC; there were miraculous stories of alarms that didn't go off, subways that were missed, meetings that were postponed. . . .

The other thing that still remains vivid was the silence when I went for my walks with no airplanes in the sky. . . .

How did 9/11 influence your art and/or your faith?
The best way I can describe this is by embedding the poems that I wrote:

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Psalm 11, v. 2-3:  for lo, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?

Ground zero:  Rodin’s Gates of Hell, twisted steel, concrete
tossed chockablock, cascades of debris, thousands of lives
erased in a minute. Hiroshima.  Beirut.  Nagasaki.
Beyond the worst disaster movie Hollywood could conjure.
The mayor says, Whatever the numbers, this will be more than we can bear.

A group of young firefighters, ghostly in their coats of ash and dust,
make their way exhausted down the ruined streets.
One shoe, with a silver buckle. A snowstorm of résumés, faxes,
time cards, worksheets.  The river slides by, pulling its load.

A backdrop of smoke and crushed cement rises higher
than the vanished buildings, the forever altered skyline.
A small woman stands on a rocky island out in the harbor,
her arm raised, a lamp held high.
And the darkness is not complete.
       first published in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2001


This ironic strand of perfect weather, week after week,
round blue beads, a rosary of clement days;
a bright sun, the kind a child draws with a brand-new
crayon, and over there, just a thin scribble of clouds.
That terrible Tuesday, after people dropped, burning,
from the sky—  “Look, the birds are on fire”—
everything changed, and nothing did. 

There should have been an orange sky,
a purple sun.  Now, overhead, an airplane hums
with menace.  We can’t forget the buildings slipping
from sight, the concrete canyons filling with billowing
smoke, the galloping clouds of  debris, thousands of people
walking north, covered in dust and ash.
No one turned back to look
at the pillars of smoke,
afraid they’d be turned to salt.
   first published in New Works Review, 2004


Oh, how we’d like to put this video in slow rewind,
go back to September 10th, refurl the chrysanthemum
of ash to a bud, pull the towers back up
from their soft collapse, harden their sides,
slap cement on with our bare hands, smooth it flat
with a trowel, return the sky to its flawless blue,
no plume of black smoke, just windows glittering
in the September sun, office workers breaking
for coffee and bagels, the world’s commerce
humming on.  Let the planes remain in their hangars.
Let the men who plan harm get caught in traffic,
misplace their tickets, miss their connections.
Let us all sleep again at night.
     first published in New Works Review, 2004


One week later, and
I need to see my mother,
upstate New York, far
from the center, the devastation,
but the need to be with her is strong,
so I get in the car and drive north,
and my best friend from high school
goes to see her parents, too, and we meet
for lunch.  And Mom cries when Judy leaves,
then we both cry when I leave,
and then I’m on the Thruway
and I need gas, and I start talking
to the woman at the next pump,
and by the time we replace
the nozzles, we’re crying
and wishing each other  
safe journey home and no one knows
what’s coming next, the darkness is gathering,
thick as crows in a roosting tree,
but still, there’s an and—
       first published in Migrants and Stowaways, 2004



The goldenrod’s gone to seed, tarnished and rusty,

but its wands still dance in the breeze.
And the sky is so blue it could crack your heart.
In today’s terrible news, bacteria are dispersed
     in the morning mail.
Five yellow finches go up and down the thistle feeder.
My friend from Washington writes how empty the sky is,
no contrails of jets, no familiar drone of traffic in the air.
Here, a hawk circles lazily in the updrafts, looking for prey.
The year winds down, and all you can hear
is the small music of bees, the thud of apples
hitting the ground.  In Afghanistan, mortar fire pounds
buildings to rubble, a steady thunder
drumming in the distance.
Meanwhile, October’s slow cello keeps on playing.
       first published in New Works Review, 2006



If I say God is good,
you nod, because you also believe.
But if I say MY God is the one true God,
that’s when the troubles start.  So many wars,
waged in the name of peace.  My missiles
are bigger than your missiles.  In the end,
when we are dust, will it matter who won?
One blue sky, fragile as a robin’s egg,
covers us all.  When we sleep, grass
is our last blanket.  Maybe the stars
spell different stories to you, to me,
but in the darkness of the night,
they are light enough to see by.
       first published in Windhover, 2004
       and in Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015)


Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair.  Praise what little there’s left: 
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees.  Praise the meadow
of dried weeds:  yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer.  Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet.  Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass:  Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple.  Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.
       first published in Windhover
           and in Radiance (Word Press, 2005)


These are dark times.  Rumors of war
rise like smoke in the east.  Drought
widens its misery.  In the west, glittering towers
collapse in a pillar of ash and dust.  Peace,
a small white bird, flies off in the clouds.

And this is the shortest day of the year.
Still, in almost every window,
a single candle burns,
there are tiny white lights
on evergreens and pines,
and the darkness is not complete.
     first published in Time of Singing, 2001

poet, critic, Associate Professor of English/Creative Writing and Program Director of Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf College
St Paul, Minnesotta

What is your personal experience of 9/11?
Just days before 9/11, I moved to Los Angeles to begin studying at the University of Southern California for a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing. 
I remember waking up and seeing the shocking images of the World Trade Center on fire, and when one of the towers collapsed, I panicked thinking about the aftermath. While the news celebrated the American public's outpouring of mutual support and grief for each other, it also reported of increased hatred toward minorities particularly those who had Arabic sounding names or Middle Eastern appearances. 
In fact, on the morning of 9/11, a fellow student in my cohort said that government officials appeared at his apartment, woke him up, and detained him downtown with other brown people for an unspecified reason. (He didn't know about the terrorist attacks until after he was released.) 
In the ensuing weeks, President George Bush's incendiary rhetoric about the Axis of Evil, which included North Korea, terrified me because it recalled the language of Japanese internment and Time Magazine articles about how to visually distinguish between persons of Chinese and Japanese origin." "Where are you from?"--the complicated question--became even more challenging and racist with its post-9/11 follow-up: "North Korea or South Korea?" But beyond strangers' disconcerting gaze, post-9/11 racism emerged as a threat that people of color were told to understand and to excuse in the name of national security.

How did 9/11 influence your art and/or your faith?
I became deeply concerned about U.S. militarism and how it warps the imagination to dehumanize "others" as enemies to national security. I began reading and writing against this gaze that in softer forms interrogates my presence in the U.S. as a possible North Korean and in harder forms expresses itself in nativist, hate rhetoric such as what we're currently seeing in Donald Trump's presidential campaign. 

In this way, I deepened my faith in poetry to intervene, complicate, problematize, slow down, re-cast, re-imagine, and say again in precise and memorable language how we look upon each other. We are neighbors, not others. An act of imagination is an action. It is not a luxury.


Shawntineal Hughes Edwards
Poet/ Owner of Diverse Creative Solutions
Atlanta, Georgia
I remember sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office watching television to pass the time. There was an interruption in the broadcast, and there I saw it.  News flash about the Twin Towers getting hit by airplanes. It was surreal.  

I was a recent college graduate. So even though my adulthood was truly beginning, nothing could have prepared me for this.  I was going through my own life challenges at the time, but I wouldn't dare try to compare what I went through to the loss of loved ones and the devastation of that one day.

There has been speculation over the years about the cause of such a heartless action on September 11th. One thing I do know is that people lost their lives, and our country has never been the same.  
2001 was a very significant year for me.  It was also the year I gave my life to Christ.  My trust in God and my faith continues to grow. I've learned to love and appreciate the simple things. Life is so short and should never be taken for granted.

9/11 should not be reflected as a single incident.  It should be a wake up call to the whole world that we are living in a state of emergency. These are the last days.  Put God first. Dedicate your life to living and treating everyone right so that when the time comes for you to be called home, you know your work on earth will not be in vain.


Writer, Artist, Studied Traditional Chinese Medicine
Plymouth, Massachusetts

Smokey after
*dedicated to my brother who from cancer as a result of 9/11 when he worked as a construction worker at ground zero. 

My brother amazes me
He walks in dreams now
Plucking ever after flowers
In the desert
After Ground Zero.

He breathes again
Barefoot from his rural home
Smokey reveals
Everlasting ever after.


Professional Tarot-Card Reader and Poet
Maryland Heights, Missouri



Born Again Christian
Atlanta, Georgia

On September 11, 2001 I was working as an adolescent substance abuse counselor. When the first plane hit, a coworker came in my office and told me to come see what was happening. I watched the TV in disbelief. Then…the second plane hit. We knew this was no longer an accident. Several coworkers gathered in his office and watched this nightmare unfold. No one said a word. It was completely silent. I can’t remember how long we watched TV that morning, but I do remember seeing people jumping from the building to their death. At that point I couldn’t watch anymore. I went back to my office…feeling numb. The rest of the day was a blur. But as soon as I got home, I turned on the TV and watched until I fell asleep that night.
I went to work the next day and everyone was talking about what they had seen on TV the night before. People were displaying feelings of sadness, anger, disbelief, fear and helplessness. I didn’t know what I felt. I guess a combination of all of these feelings. That day at work all of my clients discussed their feelings about 911. I was riding on a rollercoaster of emotions. When I got off work, I grabbed my purse to leave and then I sat back down in my chair. I began sobbing…thinking about all those lives lost and families that were hurting. About ten minutes later a coworker came to my door and asked if I was okay. I honestly don’t remember what I said to him. But I could tell he was feeling the exact same way.

Life certainly changed for me after 911. I started to appreciate it more instead of taking it for granted. I shared my love to family and friends more often, through my words and actions. My faith in God grew. I witnessed people searching for peace because of this tragedy. People were looking to God, more than they ever had before. (This was inside and outside of my counseling office). People also seemed friendlier; saying hello, holding a door or just smiling at a stranger. For me, 9/11 was horrible and wonderful at the same time.

Washington DC
I was sitting outside of my physical therapist’s office, waiting for her.  I walked into the pharmacy and heard.  I tried over and over to call my brother who lives in NYC and could not get in touch with him.  (He was alright).  I don’t think 9/11 affected my art very much, though it affected me personally.  I remember thinking that there was no way that artists could make superficial, Pop-culture work after 9/11, but I was wrong.



Northampton, Massachusetts

13 Ways of Looking at 9/11

First thought:
This is not good
for the Jews.
Second thought:
This is not good
for the lesbians.
Third thought:
        this is not good
for me.

Even now—especially now
the body has its demands:
the belly cries to be fed.
But food can’t push past
the lump of tears
stuck in my throat
too terrified
to spill from my eyes

The cats, usually so aloof
except at feeding time
stay close
unaware, yet knowing
something heavy
soft and purring
is needed on my lap

Born in Brooklyn
raised on Long Island,
I moved to the East Village
to make my fortune
then fled the city
twenty years ago.
Still, in my heart
I am a New Yorker
so people call,
wanting to connect
wanting it to be their tragedy, too.
“Did you lose anyone?”
they ask, almost hopeful.
        I am almost sorry to disappoint them.

The nation is on high alert.
I stock canned goods in the basement,
stash two hundred dollars
under my mattress
thinking, this and a token
will get me a ride on the subway.
Then I remember
where I live
there is no subway

The search dogs get depressed;
there are so few bodies to be found.
One team stages a mock recovery
to boost their dogs’ morale.
A burly firefighter
puts down his gear,
lies down in the rubble
and like a dog, plays dead.
Soon the search dogs start to bark
and wag their tails
and lick his face.
Soon the firefighter rises from the ashes
and slowly walks away

Bags and bags of body parts:
finger, ankle, elbow.
I remember lying in bed with you
looking at our feet sticking up
from under the blankets,
yours so brown and slender,
a perfect size six with ballerina arches;
mine so pale and squat and flat.
We joked about knowing each other in a crowd
solely by our feet.
Now I try to wrap my mind
around the unimaginable:
a knock at the door,
a strange man
brings me your right foot
and I am grateful even for that.

It doesn’t take long
for the newspapers
to quote letters
blaming Israel and the Jews.
It doesn’t take long
for the newspapers
to quote Jerry Falwell
blaming the feminists and the gays.
It doesn’t take long
for me to stop reading
the newspapers.

In my little town
at my little grocery store
a cashier refuses to check out
a woman he calls a “turban head,”
a woman I call a cancer survivor.

It is the longest we have gone
in thirteen years
without making love.
Finally I let you touch me
though I feel like glass
because those who died
will never enjoy
this gift again.
How dare I waste it?

A blank notebook page
an empty computer screen,
What is the point of writing anything?
Then an unbidden email from a fan:
“Thank you for bringing so much
beauty into my heart and the world.”
Tears tumble from my eyes.

        I dream a child stands
on the twin towers
of her sturdy legs.
before she disappears
and I am running
across the Brooklyn Bridge,
naked and burning,
my skin falling away
like the Vietnamese girl
in that famous photo.
Everyone I ask for help
asks me, “Are you an Arab
or a Jew?” I tell them,
“I am a human being”
and everyone who hears my answer
vanishes like smoke

On Rosh Hashannah
There is a discussion group at the synagogue.
Our leader says when she first heard,
she was so angry she wanted to kill
somebody—anybody—and everybody
she spoke with felt the same way.
“Is there anyone here
who isn’t furious?” she asks.
I look around the circle,
then slowly raise my hand
like a white flag of surrender.

“13 Ways of Looking at 9/11” copyright © 2008 Lesléa Newman from Nobody’s Mother (Orchard House Press). Used by permission of the author.


Seattle, Washington

The Butterfly Effect

My father had passed away, at age 78, just a few days before 9/11. I was in a state of grief. It was more than grief. A paradigm had changed, both personal and social. Not only was my father gone, and the values he embodied, but the United States seemed suddenly gone. Unequivocally, irrevocably gone.
It began before 9/11. I’d say it became evident around 1980, after Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. 

The United States that I’d known  -  the country that had birthed and nourished thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and William James, the country that produced poets such as Emily Dickinson and Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, the country that produced innovative composers such as Charles Ives and Duke Ellington, the country that stood for equal opportunity and social justice and values of honesty and thrift  -  was disappearing.

I still remembered the cattle I’d seen lying dead in grassy culverts matted with patches of snow as our train to Minot, North Dakota rolled by. It was May, 1997, and the snow had just begun melting, revealing the carcasses of the cows. This was new. I’d never seen that. In all the years that my grandparents had had a farm in North Dakota people took care of their livestock. They brought them in. They didn’t let them stay out and freeze. Something in the country’s psyche had shifted. Something commercial, something bleak and mercantile had entered the picture and shoved everything else aside, or just plain crushed it. Suddenly, as Gordon Gekko famously uttered in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, greed was good. It was the day of the bully. The ends justified the means. The world had become bloody. Consequently, my reaction to the events of 9/11 a few years later were strange. I didn’t think of terrorists. I thought of rage.

I was in bed at our home in Seattle, Washington when I first heard of it. This would’ve been 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, which would’ve made it already noon in New York as those horrific events were still unfolding.  My wife Roberta and I had just gone online. We were new to the Internet. We still had dial-up. AOL. No YouTube. But we did get images. Roberta came into the bedroom and told me that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers. The first image that came to mind was that of the B-25 bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. Roberta thought it was a new action movie that AOL was promoting.

I got out of bed and went to look. There it was: black smoke billowing out the north tower. That’s all it was at that point: a terrible accident. Not a movie, it looked real enough, but no sinister intent was apparent.

That all changed when we turned the television on. All the major channels were providing coverage for what had become a full-fledged national emergency. Both World Trade Towers were billowing black smoke. People screaming in horror as footage of the two plane collisions were shown over and over again. Most horrific of all: tiny figures moving past the glass windows, plummeting to their deaths thousands of feet below.

Photographs of the alleged mastermind behind the attack were already being shown: a swarthy, middle-aged man wearing a turban and a long black beard named Osama bin Laden. His group of terrorists were called al Qaeda, an Arabic word meaning (roughly) “the base,” or “the foundation.” It was a network made up of Salafist jihadists. These were Islamic extremists who espoused jihad (an Arabic word roughly meaning struggle, fighting, persevering) against whoever they perceived as enemies of Islaam. Footage of this group firing machine guns and performing drills in the desert would be repeated numerous times in the coming weeks.

My immediate thought was: how did they know this so soon? I had to assume that this group of terrorists had been suspected for some time leading up to this tragic series of events. But if so, how they were able to pull it off? Weren’t they being watched closely by our intelligence gather apparatus? Couldn’t this attack have been predicted? Where was the military? It would be explained in the following days that the air defense failures to intercept these planes were due to multiple factors, including failure of communications between the agencies responsible and some highly coincidental military exercises.

At 10:00 a.m. the south tower collapsed. I was stunned as I heard Peter Jennings announce the collapse of the building. I was dumbfounded by the calmness in his voice. The collapse of the tower seemed to be taken for granted. But what I saw was clear and obvious: a controlled demolition. Why was no one commenting on this? Had the terrorists managed to strategically plant explosives before crashing the planes into the towers? Had there been plans to bring the towers down in case of an attack?

Minutes later the north tower came down. Again: a controlled demolition, the building collapsing in mere seconds into its own footprint.
Had my father been able to stay alive until these events he would’ve seen it for what it was: an expertly controlled implosion of glass and steel. My father had been a designer and an engineer. He knew physics. He knew materials. He knew forces and stresses and shocks and balances. What would he have thought, this man who flew B24s in World War II?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t have a theory. All I know is that what I saw were two controlled demolitions that day that in no way could’ve been caused by a plane crashing into the structure and causing it to collapse due to the heat produced by jet fuel aflame. I knew that in some way we were all being lied to. Once again, as with the Warren Report, the American public was being spoon-fed a fiction.

At 5:20 that afternoon a third building, the 47-story 7 World Trade Center containing New York’s emergency operations center, came down in what was obviously a controlled demolition. This building had not been hit by a plane.

In the 15 years since 9/11 the United States has become a very different place. It doesn’t feel at all like the country I grew up in. It bears a far closer resemblance to the dystopic totalitarian government presented in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance, data mining, torture, kidnapping, prison detention without charge and attacks on academic freedom have all become the new norm.

9/11 has had a profound effect on my relation with the country in which I was born and acquired my values. Like a lot of people, particularly during the current election cycle, I’m frightened. The society appears to be coming apart. Hatreds, racial and socio-economic, are inflamed. Donald Trump is capitalizing on these hatreds to fuel his campaign. Hillary Clinton is little better. She is a Medusa fueled by corporate greed. A good way to depict the American zeitgeist pictorially would be to take Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, stick a few corporate logos on Saturn and replace the son whose head Saturn has already been bitten off and swallowed with the iconic Uncle Sam.

As a poet and writer, I have felt alienated from American culture since at least 1966, when I was 18. 1966 was a pivotal year, for a lot of reasons, including experimentation with LSD, but the biggest seminal event was my discovery of Arthur Rimbaud and his poem Le bateau ivre, “The Drunken Boat.” Just a few years previous, in 1964, Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in America had won the Pulitzer. 

Why I chose to become a writer in a society so antagonistic to intellectual pursuits is a mystery to me. All I remember is being utterly electrified by Bob Dylan’s lyrics and music. Mainly the lyrics. I wanted more. Thanks to some older friends and sympathetic teachers, I discovered Dada and Surrealism.

Is it rational to believe, as did André Breton and the other surrealists, that a revolution in consciousness was possible? No. 

Not in a culture that refers to a technocratic entrepreneur like Steve Jobs as a “visionary,” or frames highly aggressive moguls like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as benign philanthropists. Or, for that matter, makes a candidacy like Donald Trump even remotely possible.

That’s where faith comes in. The motivation to create literary art in a society that ignores or flatly despises literary art is nuts. It’s crazy. There’s nothing rational to support it. But it’s there. It’s as pertinent to my existence as muscle or bone or blood.

According to chaos theory, most systems are inherently non-linear. In other words, output is not directly proportionate to input. The slightest of changes in one particular state can result in massive changes elsewhere. This is known as the “butterfly effect.” The subtle perturbations of air caused by a butterfly flapping its wings can, several weeks later, result in a hurricane.

Faith may be initial condition necessary to trigger a sequence of words in the hope they produce an alteration in consciousness and hence, later down the line, a change in public policy for the better.
Faith may be as natural as snow falling in the Himalayas. Acoustical and awkward as a ghost note in a zydeco dance competition.
Faith may be hope that a certain medicine helps alleviate a stubborn pain, innervates a hollow feeling, or palliates the pain of sciatica.
Faith may be warm and correspondent to touch or unfocused as the drift of incense. A whisper of ginger, the feel of an elephant’s trunk lightly touching the back of one’s neck.
A deep inner knowing.
Faith may be a little agitation in the air caused by a flapping of wings.


Poet/ Associate Professor & Head of the Department of English J.V. College
Baraut, Baghpat, Up, India.

What is your personal experience of 9/11?
It was a devastating incident to create havoc among mankind. It spread deep wide gloom of despair and depression . This was the worst incident i realized and thought since i grew.

How did 9/11 influence your art and/or your faith?
Love and peace became more attractive and significant after this incident and i started realizing to make this world more beautiful with my poems .Love and peace was my twin towers to support the people
worldwide .


Poet, Writer, Editor
Washington, DC
For me the events of September 11, 2011 and their aftermath were not an abstraction. Nor were they distant. I learned of the attacks at my office, three blocks from the White House, and before long I joined the stunned crowds on the street dismissed from their jobs for the day and looking for a way home. I had the relative luxury of walking to my apartment in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, and on the way I bought one bottle of ouzo and another of something brown in self-indulgent defiance of what seemed like and turned out to be an Islamist attack. I made a dent in both while watching with a friend. In the days that followed I saw the downcast silence of bus passengers, and I saw personnel carriers manned by armed National Guardsmen in the parks. Waiting for my first flight after the attacks, in late October I saw the nearly-empty corridors of National Airport, and both leaving and returning I saw from above the blasted walls of the Pentagon. Visiting a friend in November, I walked around the still-smoking and sparking pit that had been the foundation of the Twin Towers. In the fullness of time I saw the streets of Washington push up bollards like so many malign hedgerows and air travel turn into a wasteful exercise in security theater that brings out the worst impulses in everyone involved. 

Well before I could respond to these upheavals as a person in the world, let alone as a writer, plenty of others had their say, and it generally wasn’t pretty. The poems on the subject I heard at open mics leapt over the already-blurred line between art and art therapy that prevails in those settings, with plenty of preaching to the choir on the superiority of love to hate and other such platitudes. At times I also caught a whiff of self-aggrandizement and careerism, as if a poet’s big break might come from his 9/11 poem. Perhaps the most notable saving grace of this situation is that poets had less to gain than those visual and performance artists who seemed to relish the prospect of keeping individual and collective trauma raw as long as their work was noticed.  

My first response in poetry to the attacks thus turned out to be a meta-statement on the solipsism and/or cynicism of what had been written so far. And on having been beaten to the punch, since I could not manage a final draft until September 2002.

       Poems of September 11
The words deserving of an audience
dissolve in the acoustical pads
of a therapist’s pastel office,
or they carom against bedroom walls.
The loftiest statements have been raked,       
sifted beyond recognition,
in the level syntax of Fresh Kills.
None will apply for tenure,
or a grant. 

Lacking the decorum
of a line in a vita, superseded
and set beneath the latest entry,
those cries and questions daily
rise to the first line, on a first page,
where there may be no second page.
They have yet to be closely read.

Until they are, and notes taken,
it is best to add nothing,
to ignore the first,
facile statements
such as this.

The poem nonetheless ends up feeding the trolls and validating the poseurs by acknowledging their existence and positioning the speaker in relation to them.

       The political and cultural atmosphere that arose from the attacks pushed me in another direction. In a crisis, many among both leaders and the public at large seemed primarily concerned with safety at the expense of all other values—the priorities of consumers rather than citizens. The subsequent discussion of plans for a “shadow government” in the event of a catastrophe seemed to be a further sign of the country’s drifting from democratic attitudes. At the risk of making a facile comparison, I was reminded of the shift in values that occurred as the vibrancy of ancient Rome congealed into empire. Hence the lengthy one-sentence sigh that is this poem:

  For a Shadow Government 

If the calculations are correct,
And everyone has inhaled
A molecule of Julius Caesar’s
Dying breaths,

I would imagine mine
Once borne on words
That could, in this tongue, 
Be said again:
If this is our path,
May the Republic be restored.

In retrospect I find this poem still too focused on personal response and too intimate for addressing the sweep of history.

Left, the only surviving sculpture of Julius Ceaser made during his lifetime.  Right, map of Julius Ceaser's Roman empire in 40AD

       For a time, from the breaching of the Berlin Wall in 1989 until the morning September 11, many of us had hoped that the larger convulsions of history were behind us and that the world might gradually move toward some patchwork utopia of free trade and liberal democracy. 

view of the East side of the end Berlin Wall, taken in December of 19990 after the border was opened.

      That dream has been dashed, and other disillusionments have followed. Besides a still-unresolved intervention in Afghanistan and the disastrous “war of choice” in Iraq, they include inadequate responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Even at Ground Zero, New York’s officials and developers failed to rebuild the World Trade Center site in a timely manner and to memorialize the victims and responders with the dignity they deserve.

Soldiers quickly march to the ramp of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter that will return them to Kandahar Army Air Field on Sept. 4, 2003. The Soldiers were searching in Daychopan district, Afghanistan, for Taliban fighters and illegal weapons caches    

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (November 2003) - U.S. Army and personnel from pose for a photo under the "Hands of Victory" in Ceremony Square, Baghdad, Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

New Orleans (August 30, 2005) – U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty of Long Island, N.Y., looks for survivors in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon    

       It is not for me to say how other poets should deal with the attacks of September 11 and the times they have ushered in, but so far I have found myself drawn away from the comforts and distresses of the private sphere. My now-distant childhood has less hold on my attention than the present age, and bearing witness to that age in poetry seems more urgent than providing another memoir in verse, which others do better anyway. Within the limits of my ability I hope to explore poetry’s prophetic or visionary function. By this I do not mean prognostication or clairvoyance, but rather the function of bringing a long but morally urgent view to current events.  I will close with a poem that attempts to move in this direction.      
Two Capitals

1. Athens

Life must have smelled more then.
Along with dung and dust,
the urine sluicing through the tanneries
and cheeses going bad in the Agora,
the strigil-scraped and rancid oil
from wrestlers’ backs, like resined wine
and roasting joints of lamb,
would have suffused the air, if not enough
to banish sweat.

Those scents dispersed, what’s left?
Besides orations, plays, ceramics,
some verse, inquiries on
the nature of the Good, presided over by
a temple whose proportions cast
a shadow on the works
of every generation that has followed.

2. District of Columbia

The present’s odor, though
noxious with exhaust,
or polysyllables of nitrogen
that manure far-sprawling fields,
may waft more faintly in comparison,
a benediction or achievement of
refrigerators and the vaccines they can hold,
and sewerage that leads unglamorously
to health, thus widening the canopy of years
beneath which we draw breath,
find entertainment, undertake
perhaps some larger task.
Above the buried genius of the Metro,
one or another borrowed idiom prevails
in castle, column, obelisk,
and an accounting made of wishes more than means
while texts of native wisdom fray
or turn to fossils under glass.
A later age may find, in this, our scent. 


Author profile:
New York, NY

Something is Going on Downtown

Jeff C. Stevenson

One day several years ago, I was cleaning my bedroom windows. I raised the heavy blind that was always lowered half way due to the sun. I was surprised to find a bleached-white page from the New York Times taped to the glass. I had forgotten I had put it there and it took me several seconds to realize what it was.

attributed to Martin Beebe

# # #

On the morning of the September 11th attacks, I was at the advertising agency where I worked, presenting to the client some TV campaign ideas for the launch of a cholesterol-lowering agent. A woman knocked on the door to the conference room. “Something is going on downtown.”
       Soon after, the office closed for the day and I walked home that beautiful morning. This was before everyone had a cell phone so car doors were opened along the streets with radios blaring the terrible news. People would cluster around, listen a few minutes, continue on, and then pause at another automobile for an update.
       I noticed a large crowd at one corner. “To give blood,” the woman told me. I felt ashamed I hadn’t thought to do that; I just wanted to get home. I remember the odd hush of that day. Other than the radios playing from the cars, there was only the steady shuffle of thousands hurrying home in the late morning. I don’t remember traffic on the streets, no horns or shouting, just a mass of humanity trudging north.
       The rest of that day and long into the evening, I watched television. Facebook and Twitter and the other social media platforms were not yet in existence. I don’t recall getting much information online. I think there was the need to have human contact, even if it was only the familiar faces of news anchors.

# # #

The next morning, the agency was closed. I was up early, another beautiful day. The streets were empty. That had never, ever happened before. No cars, no bicycle riders or joggers, no one on their way to work. Looking south, I saw that awful smear on the sky from where the towers were still smoldering.  I purchased all the newspapers, starving for more information; maybe the print reporters knew something the cable programs weren’t aware of. I remember the storeowner didn’t say much to me; his small TV set was on. Even reduced, the images still held the power to traumatize, to make you recoil.

# # #

Thursday morning, my office was open. The streets were almost back to normal; the shock had worn off a little, everyone seemed a bit dazed but they were out and about. I took the bus to work since there was a rumor the subways were going to be blown up. There were only a few people on board; several were weeping, not at all ashamed of their public grief. A dreary silence hovered over us; I was already dreading the day ahead as we all tried to function under such horrific circumstances.

                                Days after 9/11 in Washington Square Park 

# # #

Friday morning I met with an art director who was supposed to have some new concepts ready to review. We were all cutting one another a lot of slack but clients were not: they had ad buys that needed to be honored, so deadlines had to be met.
       “I have to leave early today,” she said as we started to review her layouts. “Around three.”
       “Will your revisions be done by then? The presentation is Monday morning. There might be weekend work.”
       She looked at me with concern. “You live in the city, don’t you? So do I, but they’re going to blow it up. You heard, right?”
       I didn’t know what to say. Her layouts were a mess. She had a lot of work ahead of her. And yes, I had heard that “they” were going to blow up Manhattan.
       She said, “My boyfriend and I are going up north to stay with my sister in the Hudson Valley for the weekend. Where are you going?”
       I set aside her work. “I’ll be in the city this weekend. How will you get your layouts done for the meeting if you don’t stay all day?”
       “I’ll work remotely and come in early Monday to print them out.”
       I waited for her to think through her logic. She didn’t, so I helped her. “How will you print out your work if the city is destroyed?”
       It took her a few seconds. She sort of grinned. “Oh. Yeah. Right.”
       She stayed late to work on her designs, but still fled the city that weekend.
Morning, Looking East over the Hudson Valley from Catskill Mountains by Frederic Edwin Church (1848), of the Hudson River School.

# # #

Only a few days after the September 11th attacks, there were no American flags available in New York City. They had all been purchased and were displayed in offices or hung over restaurant or department store entrances. There was no supply, just an overwhelming demand.
       The newspapers came to our rescue. They printed full color images of Old Glory. I trimmed mine out of the New York Times, taped it to my bedroom window. Before I lowered the heavy blind, I noticed that just about every apartment dweller had the same idea. Red, white and blue images were affixed as far as I could see.

       I would count flags each morning on the walk to my gym; I always spotted at least fifty, but it was frequently closer to ninety. For many weeks, all of Manhattan looked to be frozen in time, with every single day resembling a somber Fourth of July celebration.

# # #

Attendance at churches, temples and mosques—and bars—surged in the days and weeks following September 11th. When there are catastrophic occurrences, such as wars, social unrest, or terrorist attacks, people want to feel safe. They form faith- based or secular or tavern communities, places where others are likeminded and share their same worldview.

Iranian girl with her mother turning candle light at Tehran, remembering the September 11 attacks

       I remember that all the religious leaders were intent on explaining WHY this happened to America. Millions listened to these men and women because they
heard from God, and they alone knew what He was up to. Was God judging us, or was He judging only some of us, and others just got in His way?

       I don’t think God had anything whatsoever to do with the attacks. It was conceived by terrorists who are as twisted in their ideology as are those individuals who feel God is telling them to blow up abortion clinics, picket the funerals of slain US soldiers, or kill the physicians who work at women’s health centers.

       However, as religious and political leaders became more aggressive in their need to blame someone, I became curious, then fascinated, to learn how leaders use cataclysmic events to promote their own agenda, be it an end-time belief system or a left or right-wing policy. When we are frightened, we are at our most vulnerable and we’re desperate for someone to come along and tell us, “It’s okay. I know what’s going on. I’ll keep you safe. Come with me.”

       That’s why the number of cults and sects always increase after times of great social unrest or turmoil. After 9/11, as the claims of faith leaders became more outlandish and dangerous, I could see how people would choose to huddle fearfully together in a bunker with an all-knowing leader.


       We live in scary times. Who will save us?

# # #

It was what I heard from religious leaders that led me to write my first book.
       After 9/11, I spent seven years researching and writing FORTNEY ROAD: The True Story of Life, Death, and Deception in a Christian Cult, which was published in June 2015. It examines one of the most brutal cults of the 1960s and 70s, one in which three people died. I interviewed 17 former members of the cult and tell their stories; how they got in, how they got out, and what it was like to live in an isolated community of believers who felt they were living in the end times.

       Positioning myself as the author of “A true-life horror story and the ones we can only imagine,” I now write what is known as weird or dark fiction. Since FORTNEY ROAD came out, I have had more than a dozen short stories published.     Like the events that occurred on September 11th, my tales involve ordinary people who encounter terrifying, out-of-the-ordinary situations and try to cope with what they have experienced.

                            Jeff Stevenson with Wendy 
# # #

* Jeff C. Stevenson works as a freelance copywriter. He is a professional member of Pen America and an active member of the Horror Writers Association.

His first book FORTNEY ROAD: The True Story of Life, Death, and Deception in a Christian Cult was published by Freethought House in June 2015 and was a #1 Amazon bestseller in the categories of true crime and cults. Dean Koontz praised the book as “a unique and compelling true story” and Jonathan Kellerman said it was "fascinating and disturbing.” 

Jeff has had many articles, novelettes, short stories and flash fiction published, and film rights to all of his nonfiction and fiction projects are represented by Steve Fischer of the Agency for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. Jeff is currently at work completing his first collection of short stories and a two-part supernatural suspense novel.


Crime Writer
Fuengirola, Andalusia, Spain

What is your personal experience of 9/11.
I remember coming home tired and turning the TV on, with the idea of watching the news; but instead I found myself watching people falling, or jumping, out of a tall building. I figured I must have got the wrong channel, reached for the telecontrol unit and began to surf the channels…only to find that the same thing was happening on other channels, too. I did a mental retake: it wasn’t April 1st, was it? No, so this couldn’t be any April Fool’s joke. Even so, it might be a stunt a la Orson Welles announcing over the radio, back in 1938, that Martians had just landed on the planet Earth.

Photo of Orson Welles meeting with reporters in an effort to explain that no one connected with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast had any idea the show would cause panic.

But no, there was nothing remotely amusing about the images on the screen; nothing that you might be able to look back on at a later time and see the funny side of. Nothing at all. This was horrifying. Must, then, be some new film that all the major channels had, by some weird coincidence, decided to review at the same time. Or, to be more precise, the various channels I was surfing through were all replaying the exact same scene from said new film at the same time. Was that surreal, or what? A surreal TV moment, I thought, in which the different channels had synchronized their output in an incredibly specific way. My mind reeling, I stopped channel surfing, and turned to the BBC, which I figured could be trusted as the most reliable news source, and listened to the commentary that accompanied the horrific images I was watching…and I quickly found that one surreal set of ideas or responses was replaced by another in my mind. In other words, the reality of the terrorist attack and its aftermath, which I was now hearing about, was so horrific that it seemed even more surreal than my prior notion.

As I listened and tried to get my head around what had happened, I found myself trying to imagine what the people who’d jumped must have gone through. I tried to imagine how they must have felt, and what must have been going through their minds. The most awful thing, along with the actual footage in which you could see the people falling down through the air; the truly terrible, heartbreaking thing, was the messages that they left to their loved ones: all those, ‘I love yous’. I was moved, and still am, but I was also greatly impressed and full of admiration for these people. They knew that they were about to die, and in a terrifying and horrible way, and yet they had the presence of mind to call their loved ones to say a final goodbye. And to tell them how much they loved them. Looked at in that light, I began to realize that there was a positive side to this terrible tragedy. Witnessing this awful spectacle served to remind me just how awful people could be to each other, sure; but beyond that, it was a reminder of how strong and essentially good and loving and generous ordinary people can be, too. Goodness and love will out, seemed to be the underlying message. The world may be fucked up, sure. It may be full of violence and madness, sure. But at the same time, people are basically good and decent, and brave and loving; and the human spirit is a marvellous thing…

 How did 9/11 influence your art and/or your faith?
As I’ve explained in the answer to the previous question, 9/11 reaffirmed my faith in the human spirit. But it also did a lot of other things. For a start, it was a very blunt and obvious message from terrorists who were trying to make a point, and before I’d even got around to asking myself what could possibly be going through the minds of these people of violence, it was obvious that the world was now a less safe place. So, violence can and does happen – and it can do so anywhere and at any time. That’s one lesson. But then there’s the weird fact that the terrorists actually believe they are justified in what they’ve done. These people think they are fighting for Good against Bad. How can any Westerner even begin to understand these people? Well, there’s lesson number two for you: the world is – or, thinking back to 9/11, it had suddenly become - a whole lot more complex and complicated than it previously appeared. Bad people can commit terrible acts of violence, thereby sending large numbers of innocent people to their deaths, and they can do so believing they are acting in the name of God. That takes some getting your head around. It does for me at any rate. One man’s meat really is another man’s poison.

Violence comes from hatred, and so it seemed to me that there was obviously an awful lot of bad feeling and ugliness out there. Violence and strength in adversity; love and hatred; good and evil; complexity and simplicity; dialectic and dogma; right and wrong…and, at the end of it all, the triumph of the human spirit. ‘I love you.’ Now there’s a whole lot of material to get your teeth into if you’re a writer..


Richard Thomas
author, editor, publisher, teacher
Chicago, Illinois

What is your personal experience of 9/11?
I was working downtown at an advertising agency, where I was an art director and graphic designer. News started to leak into the office, and eventually we found ourselves downstairs in the lobby, which was attached to a hotel. I saw the second plane hit. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I called my wife. 

We were essentially in the shadow of the John Hancock building, one of the tallest buildings in Chicago. The Sears tower wasn’t too far, either. At that point, we weren’t sure if there were more planes, or if Chicago was a target. 

My bosses wouldn’t let us go home. That was the day I knew I was leaving that job. Slowly over time they had revealed themselves to be racist, homophobic, sexist jerks, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They were more worried about losing television ad sales. It made me question a lot of things. I cried a lot that day, the visuals so shocking. I still have a hard time watching any footage of it. 

I can remember wandering around downtown Chicago, we had to step out for a moment to get some fresh air, we wanted to get lunch, and it was a ghost town. The streets were deserted. We had to walk many blocks to even find something open. It was eerie.

Art work representing Richard Thomas's new magazine Gamut

How did 9/11 influence your art and/or your faith?

I don’t think it shook my faith at all, it just felt like it was our turn for disaster, or in this case, vengeance. The US does a lot of things to anger the world, and I can see why other countries hate us at times. These actions were terrible, but I saw a lot of good people out there helping others, so many stories in NYC especially. It broke my heart on a regular basis. 

In my writing, I quite often talk about evil in the world, in many forms, and how we sometimes draw it to ourselves. I think of the Eye of Sauron turning and latching on. Once you’ve been seen, you can’t be unseen. So I know that in that moment, 9/11, it did put a hunk of coal, dead and lost, in the center of my heart. I think we all lost a lot that day, a certain amount of innocence. But I’d like to think we have learned, and are getting better, trying to make the world a safer place. 

I left the US for the first time last summer, flying to Transylvania to teach, and it really did change how I saw the US, understanding we are NOT the center of the universe. There is danger everywhere, and sometimes it’s random, there is chaos. Other times, it is earned. 

                           Simmer in Brosov County, Transylvania

My writing has always had a darkness to it, but it definitely has hope, too. I have lately changed my work, to put love at the center, instead of death. I still write dark stories, but there is more redemption, more promise in tomorrow, and ourselves, I think.


                 Travelstead with finance Heidi
Carbondale, Illinois
      Bleary-eyed from working thirds at Steak n' Shake & then going home to write until four AM, I remember being surprised anything would jar me awake before noon. But when my parents' phone rang for what I believe was the fifth time, I finally fumbled the handset from its cradle.
"Jonathan, you need to turn the tv on," my mother said. In her voice was an edge I'd rarely heard from a woman who calmly interviewed enrollees for public aid, once managing to talk a broken shard of snowglobe out of the clenched & bleeding hand of a client who had threatened her life.

Despite the ticker tape reeling what I thought were more of the same falsely-urgent catch phrases like JUST IN, or BREAKING NEWS, the first thing I saw in the bottom right corner of the screen was that it was 11:05, meaning I had already missed my morning classes, but the sinking feeling in my stomach grew when the images on-screen arranged themselves into meaning.

I spent the following half hour gape-mouthed in my parents' living room, watching a replayed collage of planes striking the tower at a variety of angles, the damaged Pentagon, & the thankfully-briefer images of people jumping from the buildings, a moment I imagine sifts down to choosing between asphyxiation & one last moment of human agency in deciding their own fate. 

I felt a tremendous well of hurt. I felt as powerless as a nineteen-year-old who wanted to help, but whose only experience was waiting tables between classes at junior college, then staying up late trying to learn how to write poetry. I felt moments of shame that I had as little to worry about in the months after when civilians & rescue workers continued recovering bodies from the detritus of rebar poking from broken, spalled concrete like compound fractures. But beneath that, just more backfill in that well of hurt.
Any writing from the time period of 9/11 was one of beginning my first fumbling steps towards learning my craft, one in which I'm glad I didn't send out work, instead following William Wordsworth's sentiment: "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility".

 However, 9/11's impacted me greatest in the choices I made regarding my career outside of writing. A few years later & I would find myself in Kuwait as a firefighter for the Air Force, coming home, then joining my city fire department. Since doing so, I've been exploring my experiences that have most most shaped & informed my craft.

I'll never forget the eeriness of driving the Highway of Death in Kuwait- an eleven mile stretch of blasted tanks, cars, & buses merely swept to the side of the highway, something in my first poetry collection "How We Bury Our Dead" (Cobalt, 2015). 

Neither will I forget the intricately-carved mihrabs in the Grand Mosque where I glimpsed the lengths to which we will still insist on beauty even as we elsewhere explore the ruin we heap upon one another.


SHERI WRIGHT                              
Poet, Photographer, & Documentary Filmmaker                               Louisville, Kentucky

I was at work at work, like so many other people, when I heard the news from someone.  It was horrifying to know so many died like they did.  
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised that terrorists were able to pull this off.  Sadly, I wondered when something like this would happen here.  Humans have a violent history and have been hammering down each other’s back doors since we could pick a club.  

I think a good deal of this hammering can be resolved with a balance of equally between genders, less focus on coercion, materialism.  The whole spin is on power, but we don’t often find a healthy way towards power.  Until we do, there’s going to continue to be a terrible amount of doors knocked down.

I don’t feel that my art has been heavily influenced by so much war, other than it pushes me towards art and imagination more often.  I have also felt more compelled to combine art with activism in some way.  I feel that we all have a different for what life we share the planet with.

*Sheri Wright is a two-time Pushcart Prize and Kentucky Poet Laureate nominee and the author of six books of poetry, including the most recent, The Feast of Erasure. 

Wright’s visual work has appeared in numerous journals, including Blood Orange Review, Prick of the Spindle, Blood Lotus Journal and Subliminal Interiors. 

In 2012, Ms. Wright was a contributor to the Sister Cities Project Lvlds:  Creatively Linking Leeds and Louisville.  
Her photography has been shown across the Ohio Valley region and abroad.  

Currently, she is working on her first documentary film, Tracking Fire.

She also launched a campaign to her second documentary film, Tracking Fire In Orlando


New York, New York

The Luck of Geography
from NY Chronicles 2001

September 11
Tuesday morning was sunny and fresh, a lovely autumn day that made me happy to be alive as I walked to work at the Island School a few blocks away. I’d been given a new classroom that had a huge walk-in closet to hang up coats, but it was full of broken things that had been set aside to fix, never to be touched again, useless old books, and boxes of dusty forgotten stuff. I was going to throw it all out, wanting my room to be an amiable place of order and calm, where my students would feel at peace and be able to learn.
My colleague, Nancy, interrupted my cleaning to tell me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I said and she agreed, “It must be a small plane with a couple of seats. The pilot had a heart attack and crashed, killing a few people and breaking a lot of glass,” and that sadly was that, I thought returning to my own mess.

Pilot John Ogonowski of American Airlines Flight #11

Pilot Victor Saracen of United Airlines Flight #175

When Nancy stopped at my door again to tell me another plane hit the World Trade Center, I thought of terrorists, and walked to the principal’s office. I could have gone out on the street to see the smoking towers, but I could imagine them well enough, and besides I was at work, and it seemed duty came first.

When the principal urged us to go back to our rooms, I did and having no one to keep calm but myself, I started to clean again until I heard Nancy sobbing in the hall, with her face in her hands. Out of them she looked and said, “The buildings fell.” It seemed like the floor gave way under me and I was falling too as I imagined all those people.

At the office, the staff gathering, Sharon, the secretary, was saying the buildings imploded. As a young woman, working for the Transit Authority, she assisted the architect who designed the World Trade Center and remembered the specs. “The buildings did not fall on any other buildings. They went straight down,” she insisted smiling. Sharon was a born again Christian and for her happily this was one step closer to the Apocalypse.

                          Minoru Yamasaki 

Everyone else looked worried. A teacher was crying on the phone. One of the teachers had a daughter who worked at the World Trade Center and she was on the verge of hysteria. Another teacher had turned her radio on and was upsetting the class. “Tell her to turn the damned radio off,” Barbara, the principal, commanded, her mane of gray hair flying. “Everybody get back to your classes. Let’s keep things calm.”

                               The Scream 

I had no class to get back to and when a mother appeared, desperate for her daughter, Sharon suggested, “Why don’t you go get her.” As soon as I returned and handed over the little girl, another mother appeared as desperate for her daughter.
The next hours blur, the Pentagon bombed, the plane going down in Pennsylvania, interspersed with mothers and fathers coming to get their children. 

                              Pilot Charles Burlingame of American Airline Flight #77

                            Pilot Jason Dahl of United Airlines Flight #93 

One mother told me she worked at the World Trade Center, but was on a week’s vacation. She really hugged her son. Every parent was concerned that terrorists were going to come and blow up the Lower East Side. What people love is what they fear to lose, no matter how inconsequential it may seem to the rest of the world. Going to get children made me feel like I was doing something and I was grateful for the job.
Later, back in my classroom, I looked out the window down at the playground where even now some little girls were jumping rope. The wind was blowing through the lindens, the leaves upturned, and birds were flying like nothing had happened or these human affairs mattered.

                          "Skipping Rope"  attributed to Maurice Prendergas 1892-1895

When I left school I noticed the smoke—the Towers were gone—billowing over the horizon going south toward Staten Island. There was hardly any traffic on Avenue D, which is a boisterous Hispanic street. People were walking around without making a sound as if God had turned the volume off.

Avenue D

I had a beautiful view of the World Trade Center from my apartment windows. Back home I saw the smoke and knew that it was really gone. The night before I had gotten up to pee around four and looked at the Towers for a moment when I got back in bed. They were enchanting sentinels, ghostly, with red and white lights twinkling off of their great immensity, dominating and defining the nighttime sky.

View of the World Trace Center Towers from Don Yorty's apartment window in the 1980s.

I checked my answering machine. I heard my friend and neighbor Don Trammel screaming: “Don, get out of bed! Look out your window at the World Trade Center! Look at the World Trade Center!” Next was Neddi. She wanted me to call her at Gene and Brigid’s. I did. Neddi was sure there was going to be another explosion, perhaps nuclear. To make matters worse, she couldn’t call her mother in New Jersey; there was no long distance from Fifth Avenue where she was. From Ninth and C, I reached Neddi’s mother, but couldn’t get through to my sister Cathy in Pennsylvania, so I called Neddi’s mom back to ask her to call my sister, but now I couldn’t get through to New Jersey either. Then I dialed Pennsylvania and the phone was ringing. I told Cathy to tell everybody I was all right, but the phone might go dead at any moment. She was glad to hear my voice and I was glad to hear hers. Although many miles and a state away she seemed to be in the same state I was, shocked but involved. “All those firemen,” she said.

I went up to the roof to take some photos of the smoke. Don Trammel was there. I told him by the time he called I’d already gone. He told me he was riding his bike to work when he heard a plane go overhead down Broadway so low that he looked up to read American Airlines on its side. Two blocks later at Washington Square, he saw the gash in the tower. Don thought he was looking at a movie set until he saw the flames.
Ted, our neighbor, a journalist who had risked life and limb in Kosovo, was on the roof with his camera too. Ted had been up that morning and was annoyed that when the first tower fell the anarchists at See Squat on Avenue C had cheered on their rooftop like “their favorite team had just won.” It was hard to believe Americans would find something to celebrate in the deaths of fellow citizens whose only sin was getting up and going to work. These East Village anarchists, if they were with Osama bin Laden for a minute, he’d kick the beer bottles out of their hands and string them up stinking faster than they hiss and spit at anyone who disagrees with them.  The billowing smoke was a crematorium that left us quiet on our rooftop. The roof on See Squat was empty; I figured once they’d realized everyone had seen them cheering, they went cowardly into hiding. I looked at all the people on the surrounding roofs and thought, “Let us live well and let evil know we’ll not be cowed. But what we think is evil thinks we’re evil. What’s evil? That’s the question at hand, the problem we have to solve.”

Don, Ted and Neddi came to my apartment. None of us wanted to be alone. We sat together drinking vodka watching again and again on television the second plane hit the second tower. Neddi was determined to leave. She was sure there were going to be more attacks and was very anxious, as if every second was Russian roulette aimed at her head. I told her not to worry, that when you run from death, what you often do is run into it. But Neddi was adamant. We told her that everything was closed and jammed. How was she going to get out? But early next morning Neddi found a ferry going to Weehawken. With no planes in the sky and not much traffic on the Hudson it was beautiful and quiet. On the train from Newark she talked to a woman who had run out of the first building and in all the smoke got lost and wound up back where she had started, then she had to really run and luckily made it through all of the confusion. “She was our age,” Neddi said calling from her mother’s.

When the Towers collapsed, the pressure at impact heated to a thousand degrees, starting a fire beneath, that has to be hosed down constantly or it will burst into flames. Everybody’s boots keep melting and have to be replaced. Wednesday morning the rest of the World Trade Center collapsed, sending smoke billowing north over NYU. When I left my apartment in search of a newspaper there was the smell of fire in the air, and burning plastic, which was unpleasant, but not overpowering. The streets were very quiet with hardly any but official traffic. Every now and then you heard a siren. Some people were walking around with dust masks or handkerchiefs over their faces. It was impossible to find a newspaper. Almost all newsstands are Muslim run and I smiled to let them know I wasn’t angry with them. One fellow, his wife and I chatted. He didn’t have any papers, but said the front page of the Post had the photo of two people jumping hand in hand from the Eighty-eighth floor. Hearing the sounds of a plane, we and everybody else on Fourteenth Street looked up warily to see two military jets streak overhead, feathering an otherwise untraveled sky. The south side of Fourteenth Street was blocked off to general traffic by the police and I had to show them my driver’s license before they let me go home through the barricade.

Through the night the smell of smoke entered my dreams and woke me up. Thursday morning the southern skyline was an oppressive fog that had erased City Hall and all the other buildings south of Canal. It was like nothing was there. I went to see a movie with my friend Gary. Sexy Beast was entertaining and made us forget until we stepped from our air-conditioned reverie to stroll the smoky streets reminding us of death again. Like me Gary wore no mask. We had to laugh when we saw two young gay guys, each wearing white dust masks, stop an older guy on his bike, excited to know where he’d bought the green plastic sci-fi-looking respirator he was wearing. Only in the East Village does disaster turn into fashion.

Friday the blockade on Fourteenth Street was lifted. Now everyone can come and go as they please down to Houston. School would be open. It was raining, pouring, which made me glad. While I was still in bed drinking coffee, my cat Cachito ignored the cleansing weather and curled up by my thigh, with his paws over his eyes. I don’t think he’s noticed the change on the horizon, but then do we humans notice the anguish of animals, say the cries of an anthill stirred up and torn asunder by the sticks of little boys? I often feel, as a human, big and small at the same time, meaningless and yet the most important thing of all. Knowing one day I shall be dust and smoke, I got up and walked to work with a rolled up poster, a painting by Rousseau, The Snake Charmer, to hang up in the back of my classroom next to a map of the world.

There was some good news. The first grade teacher’s daughter who worked at the World Trade Center had caught a cold and didn’t go to work. Unfortunately a colleague had a friend who was a chef at Windows of the World, a young married man with a ten-month-old son. He hasn’t come home. Later I took the bus—it was still raining—across Avenue D to C and then up Fourteenth Street to Union Square to get money from my bank where, out front, a little Asian lady was selling little American flags. At the south side of the Square before the dark statue of George Washington sitting stiffly on his horse, people were putting candles in a widening circle of photos and flowers and pieces of cardboard with written expressions of sympathy on them.

                  Union Square Friday September 14, 2001 

A few people moved among the candles extinguished by the rain, dumped out the water and lit them again, the perfumed damp wax crackling and sputtering to flame as the ever changing crowd gathered around, stood and walked on. Here and there people played guitars and a circle of others holding hands prayed for peace in every country of the world, one guy calling out the names: “Let there be peace in Madagascar.” “Let there be peace in Madagascar.” 

                 Union Square Friday September 14, 2001  

People had also constructed a wall of hope that curved along the lawn toward the east with hundreds of photos of people who haven’t been found, most of them young, a father holding his newborn baby, a woman cutting her birthday cake, smiling at a party or the beach, some were old, a dignified man in a suit, lady executives and immigrants who cleaned the halls and bussed the tables at Windows of the World, in fact everyone in New York was on the wall.

I remembered 1990 in Guatemala when I stood in front of the post office in Santiago Atitlan where people from the countryside had hung up the photos of missing loved ones, hundreds of disappeared men and women, just after the Army had opened fire in the town killing and maiming dozens of civilians. We Americans have supported a Guatemalan government that since 1954, Eisenhower and the Cold War, has murdered a hundred thousand indigenous Guatemalans in the name of stamping out Communism. The wall in Union Square was like the wall in Guatemala, full of the faces of common people that no one will ever see again, done in by stern oppression. In that wall then and this wall now I could see no difference.

                         Santiago Atiplan, Guatemala 12/04/1990

I stopped at Dick’s Bar for a drink and talked to my friend Clio who heard the first plane go over as he was arranging flowers. He walked down Fifth Avenue and could see people hanging from the shattered towers, falling and jumping. He kept walking as the second plane hit. When the towers fell he stopped. 

David, who works at CBS, said the most difficult footage he ever edited was of his fellow New Yorkers jumping and letting go. He noticed that as the women fell, those wearing skirts held them down modestly to the very last second. It was this holding down of the dresses, David realized, that made us human.

Curtis who has AIDS and lives at a hospice on Rivington Street was having a morning cigarette down in the garden when he heard a “Boom! Boom! Boom!” that he thought was thunder although the morning was sunny and brisk. When he went up to the roof, he saw what he thought had been an accident. It looked like a burning matchstick, just a little bit of flame shooting out.

                                        Store on Rivington

Loretta and Grant saw the first smoking tower on an elevated train coming into Manhattan. No one on the train reacted and for a moment they thought they were looking at special effects: “It takes awhile to wrap your brain around something like that.”

View along the Third Avenue elevated tracks in 2008.  Now demolished. 

Curtis had a perfect view of the burning tower from the dining room. When the second plane hit, he was watching it on television and turned to look out the window at the detonation of plane and building. At one with the explosion between heaven and earth, Curtis could not understand why he was alive while thousands of perfectly healthy people had just gone up in smoke.

                                          Union Square Friday September 14, 2001

Danny had worked at the World Trade Center for a marketing firm, a psychiatrist who figures out the coming teenage trends. They’d done many fire drills before, evacuating the Towers, but nobody had ever told him what to do once he got outside, because he always went back in. Consequently hundreds of people were standing around, only moving further back until the rumbling started and everyone began to run trampling many, crushed and fallen, left behind. Danny never ran so fast in his life. Beyond thought, pure terror propelled him on to J & R Music World, where he stopped and looked around. Needing someone to talk to when the Towers fell, Curtis called Richard who lives on the Bowery and has a great view himself. Richard had seen the collapse and could hardly talk, while he and Curtis looked at the smoke, but then Richard said, as if out of breath, “Oh well, I never did like the architecture.” We have to laugh. “They were too big,” Curtis remarks: “Like two big dicks. Oh dynamic when you were standing right up next to them, but too much for such a small space. I hope the FBI isn’t listening,” Curtis whispers half in jest.

I mention that on Fourteenth Street I saw American flag t-shirts for sale. Curtis bristles at the thought of wearing Old Glory. “I like flags in general, but let’s face it, wearing the American flag is, is, is tacky! It’s gaudy!” Curtis finally blurts out, making us chuckle, but then I’m somber: “You know, I was expecting a terrorist attack for a long time, but I always thought it would be germs in the subway or a suicide bomber in the Holland Tunnel or Radio City—” “In the middle of a performance of Cats,” Curtis says and again we have to laugh.

On the way home from Dick’s I noticed on every lamp post, wall and available space people had put up flyers with photos of their loved ones asking me to get in touch if I’d seen them, described down to the smallest detail, what clothes and jewelery they were wearing when they left home in the morning. It was so poignant, so stupid, so useless; every face I saw was dead. When I got home I saw Queen Elizabeth, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter standing together at a funeral service on television, and something about the sad looks on their familiar faces made me start to cry, a quick eruption that startled Cachito who stretched up in my lap to look closely at my face, examining it strangely as I sobbed tears and snot.
A man on television looking for his wife, held up her photo in case somebody had seen her. “Retaliation isn’t the answer,” he pleaded. “This has got to stop.”
A crowd in Jersey City attacked a car of Muslims, but luckily the police intervened. When a reporter asked the little Muslim boy how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I want to kill them.” The boy was born in Pakistan where they believe Mohammed gets you into heaven. I was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania where Christ is coming back to raise the dead, as if the luck of geography predestines eternal salvation.

On the island of Borneo in February, five hundred men, women and children were chopped apart, little girls sprawled headless in an Indonesian civil war hardly noticed or thought about, brought about, one could easily argue, by decades old Cold War policy now defunct. What makes one death worthier than another? 

“The Mouth of Hell,” Hillary Clinton called Ground Zero. I see open mangled space, pieces of the skeletal towers still standing, twisted burnt wet, windows broken, knocked out but not down yet. Downtown’s very lit, smoke still rising, but the air is cool and fresh because it rained and washed it clean of human ash, the smell of rotting flesh. There is no moon or stars, the dome of heaven’s endless, black but for two passing planes blinking transitory lights.

Saturday is bright. I ride my bike near but not next to the East River. Because of environmental laws enforced over the last twenty years, life is coming back into the waterways where not only fish, but barnacles and snails are living. After a century’s absence, these creatures have returned and eaten, where they’d left off, into the wooden supports below the waterfront surrounding Manhattan. My favorite promenade is falling apart and now fenced off with no money to fix it up.

Until that long awaited day of reparations, I have to go like all the other bikers next to the FDR Drive, which is another kind of river that flows, comes and goes in its currents. Happy I ride, born from the struggling sperm into the yearning egg, conceived around the time Israel and China were born and shortly after Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. Oh you school children reading this one day on the moon, remember: “We the living think it’s all about us, but it isn’t.”

                                   United Nations School 1968

The pigeons come floating down at the very southern end of East River Park, not fenced off. I sit and see beyond the Brooklyn Bridge the State of Liberty, closed off to the public, surrounded by the Navy and the Coast Guard, raising her lamp in the fading sunset engulfed in the color of blood, the reddest of dusks.

Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the world (1886) by Edward Moran.  Oil on canvas.  The J Clarence Davies Collection.  Museum of the City of New York. 

I asked my grandfather once if he believed in life after death. He was quiet as he thought about it. “There has to be more than this nightmare,” he finally confided and we both had to smile a little bit.


LORA HOMAN ZILL                         
Poet and Editor 
Conneat Lake, Pennsylvania                                
In 2001 I didn’t access 24-hour news on the web and I don’t watch TV during the day. So I had no idea about the attacks. On that particular morning, as I was getting ready for my work teaching poetry to disabled students, the phone rang. A friend said, “Turn on the TV.”
I was physically safe in Pennsylvania. But it was a seminal moment for me spiritually and artistically. I was struck by the stories: of those who perished, the first responders, families and friends, even of search dogs. I was moved by the jumpers making the impossible decision to take final control for their lives--and deaths.
I didn’t know them personally, but I knew their stories.  
I discovered more stories at the memorial at the Pentagon and the ones being built in NYC and Shanksville.  

Shanksville had a little hut with books of photos, and yes, stories. You were invited to write your reaction on an index card that would be added to the permanent memorial. I wrote:
              Who knows what an ordinary person will be called to do
              on an ordinary day? Maybe it will be my turn tomorrow. Thank you.

Since then I’m determined to recognize and respond to the moment. That’s the story of the brave souls on Flight 93 and so many others. They had a moment to react. 

Doing my art, whether it’s crafting words into sentences or art glass into wildflower scenes, develops my intuitive feel for the moment. Perhaps through creating, this ordinary person will be practiced to answer the challenge of each moment. I don’t know if it will ever reach the point of death, like those of Flight 93, but I am called to respond to the moments I am given.

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