But mere words were inadequate vessels to contain
     the sense of shock and horror that people felt.
                     R. W. Apple, The New York Times, 9.12.02

falling bodies

falling bodies

and—blind skyscrapers


This morning, sitting in our little kitchen, glossed yellow by the clear sunny day, I heard something like a single crack of thunder. Less than a hour later—T called to tell me a plane crashed info the World Trade Center and M and I ran to our Brooklyn side of the harbor. There, we saw smoke billowing out of two monstrous holes in the Towers—by monstrous I mean several stories high. Then the collapse. Then smoke in our faces. Two planes. Smoke.


The conflagration was a spectacle, not unlike an Imax screen where fire sparks just beyond fingertips. Then, when I began to hear reports of casualties, my gut began to twist up. When M wanted to visit friends—in the guise of “getting farther away from the harbor”—and I wanted her to stay indoors with me, our argument became ugly. T drove over to pick her up. It is a pattern we are trying to avoid; one parent bailing out the other by whisking off an angry child. The mundane cracks through crisis.



A photo of a dozen people standing on ledges of windows never meant to be jacked open. A photo of people emerging from a tunnel of smoke. A photo of dozens of shoes. No one has claimed responsibility.


Poems circulating online. Especially Auden’s “September 1, 1939.” Uncanny phrases replay in my mind: blind skyscrapers

bridges and tunnels

blood banks


The unmentionable odour of death / Offends the September night.


Calls from across the country. Telling—who has not called. Meanwhile, when we ordered gas masks 24 hours after the attack, the prices had doubled from $20 to $40. Now they’re up to $150.

white powder




Trouble sleeping—and when I do, I wake and cannot fall back because I’m convinced I should send the children to relatives outside the City. Then I think—but they should stay with me. Then—but not if their safety is in jeopardy. The conflict is constant. In this attack—there is no one field or beachhead.




The horror blurs my once-strict politics. Blur. Haze. Fever. How to defend ourselves and not plunge into war? Would silence or inaction be a defense of, say—stoning women? Of not permitting women to walk down the street unescorted, without a veil—even to beg for food? There is no such thing as the State / And no one exists alone. Of executing adulteresses, amputating a thief’s hand, denying a girl’s education, denying a woman’s medical care?


We have our own sick fundamentalists: The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. Rev. Jerry Falwell.


I have mixed feelings about the Auden poem. Moved by its cadence—its grace—and the passionately elegant images—well, I guess I don’t have mixed feelings. I distrusted the we at first: We must love one another or die. I favor this tone: Our world in stupor lies. The meter. Diction. Was my crankiness really that critical reader who always steps critique-first? What an awful way to live. . . . Meanwhile, my own poems are rubbing up against sentimentality.


There’s little else to talk about: bioterrorism or what to cook for dinner.



I’ve printed little cards with emergency instructions for the girls to carry. Everyone says it’s only a matter of time before the next attack. What to do—besides pack a flashlight, bottle of water, handkerchief to cover one’s face in the event of biological attack. A biological attack? I think of a puppy whose guts exploded after eating rat poison.


Reports continue—of smoke, heat and darkness. A chaos of command. Report from a paramedic—it smelled like a butcher’s. From a secretary, of being swallowed up by dust and fire. From a niece, who saw bodies falling outside her window. From a firefighter, who (‘ailed his wife to say good-bye before entering the Tower.


All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie . . .


What has happened to words?


How to prevent plunging into war? That wordlessness—