Herein is a collection of poetry and essay prose about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most were originally posted at this web site (the WriteGallery Creative Writing Web Site) between a few days after the attacks to a few months into 2002. Others are new to this site, some even make their debut, anywhere. Be aware that the copyright for each piece of work is owned by the author. If you have an interest in using any of the work, click the author's email link under his/her name on the page where the work is. That is who you must get permission from. I and this web site have no authority to grant or prevent use of the work. I do, however, have control over the design, since it's mine. This virtual chapbook is named after the first poem I got about September, 11, Anne Foxbank's "Not Just." I have had it in my head as the title, almost since I decided to turn the collection already here into a virtual chapbook. The double-entendre of "not just" is a near perfect declaration of that infamous day. I looked for other lines, phrases, ideas in the writing as a whole for the chapbook, I found nothing that I like as well. And so here we have a collection, one among many in cyberspace about that day and after. To some WG regulars, there's hardly anything new here but the web design, and the several new works. To some who are now surfing the net for Sep 11 poems and such, this is, I hope a good stop in your searches.
As I sit here and edit my own essay, changing it into this forward, on the eve of the one-year anniversary. I think back over the year, and I again relive the six-month mark, as I did, when the essay was first written.
Six months to the day after the airplanes did the devastating damage, I took a walk out of my office at the appointed time. Meanwhile, in New York and Washington, D.C., in homes and parks around America, in the houses of the loved ones of the victims, in offices, court yards, and homes in other countries -- (those many people around the world who don't believe we Americans simply got our "political comeuppance"), others, many others, set things aside, too. In all those places and more, the minute hand swung to 8:46 that morning, March 11, 2002, and we paid honor to the memory of three-thousand plus people, who, like so many millions of people in the history of this world, were murdered because of ideas and ideals, beliefs and values, ways of life, and most offensively, they were murdered as a political statement -- not to mention because of out-and-out evil hate.
On the Wright State University campus, where my paycheck job is, there's a small biological reserve, not too long of a walk from my building. I thought about a stroll on a forested path as the cathedral for my memorial meditation. That was my destination when I walked out the back door of my department. But there, at the door to outside, was the stairwell. Mind you, I work in a building that's only three stories high, not a skyscraper like one of the twins, yet the symbolism of pausing, up in that stairwell, in remembrance of the people murdered on September 11 did not escape me. That the stairwell is an emergency exit not only made it a more poignant place for my commemoration of lives unforgivably stolen -- also, I was alone when I walked to the top floor and looked out the large window.
And I wanted to be alone.
Though I wanted to be in communion with the survivors of the events, the friends and families of the dead, and we other Americans, I wanted to feel my communion in solitude. My hands in my pockets, I watched students walk the lawn below, cars travel the main thoroughfare in the distance, and a robin flutter its wings on the sill just the other side of the quarter-inch pane. I didn't assume that any of the students or drivers were ignorant of the import of that moment. Any one of them could have, on necessary travel from one spot to another, been thinking, Six months ago to the minute, the first plane hit.
The world's faint roar, on the other side of the window, seemed to sneak through the glass. It sounded like mourning to me, like low wails of anger and grief. And I remembered September 11, 2001, as it happened in my life.
A co-worker said, "The FAA grounded all domestic flights." I asked if there was an air traffic controllers strike, or a pilots strike. Then another person came over and said, "They hit the World Trade Center, again." Who? I asked, still not emotionally affected. "Terrorist," he said, "they rammed both towers with commercial air liners."
Son -- of -- a -- bitch.
The idea that people had just been killed was still only vague in my head. And I wasn't yet flooded by the collective American shock. I grimaced in mild heebee-geebees because the day I and many other Americans had been dreading had arrived. There are plenty of us who knew American soil was not untouchable, who knew a big-scale terrorist attack, rather than being impossible, was inevitable. And of course, the next thought that came to my mind was the same as surely came to millions of minds in America: Bin Laden -- the collective guess that, rash as it may have been, of course, turned out correct.
Like everywhere else in America, productivity was a major casualty in my office for the rest of the day. News web sites were up on most computer screens. Radios played louder than policy allows. Several portable mini-TVs came out. And, still without yet feeling it, I watched footage of the second plane hit. The most I experienced was disbelief that this day had finally arrived.
At some point, the news about the Pentagon came and I and my co-workers started to worry. My university sits almost next door to where the Dayton Peace Accord was signed, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Because of the research and development done there, alone, the base is a significant military target without the Peace Accord factored in. In retrospect, Wright-Patt was an unlikely target, but on September 11, the scale and scope of the attacks was an unknown equation. The base was on high alert as would be expected, and by late-afternoon, the university was finally closed.
Like probably 200-million-plus Americans, I, of course, spent the rest of that day, at home, flipping through news coverage -- except for an hour-and-a-half in a line at my local gas station, caught up in the gasoline panic. But most of the afternoon and night, along with the rest of the nation, I became familiar with the depth of the horrors of that morning as the news reports unveiled them. And I came to understand, with the rest of America, that there were firemen, police officers, military and government workers, and some brave air line passengers, all who had sacrificed their lives so others could live.
And I sobbed; sometime in the evening of that day, the weight of it all fell on me. It wasn't the last time I sobbed over this.
At that time in 2001, I was in the midst of producing the Autumn 2001 literary update for the site; I was also in early production of a special collection, a virtual chapbook; and, I was on the homestretch with the manuscript of my novel. I put it all on hold. I tried to write about this event, a September 11 poem or an essay -- or something. Nothing came. I came to understand I more wanted to just feel it. So, I did. And sometimes I cried, sometimes I yelled, sometimes I just felt sad. And sometimes I just went on with my life.
As I said earlier, "Not Just" was the first 9-11 poem submitted to the site. As some will know, that poem spent several months on the home page at the site, before I finally moved it to the September 11, 2001 Poems and Essays collection. I also stuck it before the masthead in the September 2001 WG Reporter email newsletter. It was as more poems came in it became clear I should create that special collection. It seemed fitting to include essays on the subject. Usually the essays at the WriteGallery must be either somehow on the subject of writing, itself, or be personal essays. In other words, political and social commentary is usually outside the scope of essays the WriteGallery posts. But this was an obvious place to make an only exception. Fictional stories were not welcomed. The day will come when they will be fair game. I don't think that day has come yet, and it certainly hadn't came in the weeks and months after the attack.
I also decided I shouldn't be so conscious of the skill that went into the September 11 poems and essays. The point here was to have a creative forum for us to share our grief, dismay and anger, not to showcase brilliant writers. That is not to say there isn't some wonderful September 11 writing in the collection. In fact, I'd say none of it is anywhere close to lousy. But there is some work, poetry especially, that would have been crowded out of the regular updates, based simply on the merits of other work submitted to the site. But I removed this work from that contest, and rightfully so. I was not about to send an email to someone that I wasn't using their September 11 poem or essay -- unless it was just so obnoxious that it tested my tolerance.
I am a little sorry that no poem or essay came in that was at all critical, at least openly, of anything the U.S. Government has done in response to the attacks. I know there are a lot of people out there who are concerned about some of the governmental and military actions. I am upset, myself, about various threats to due process, privacy and civil liberties, among other things, that too many Americans seem to be tolerating. I am bothered by the acceptance of an incredibly stupid attitude, which seemed to be suggested, that the cost of freedom is freedom. That notion is total nonsense. I am not anywhere close to alone about this, yet, there was a definite thickness in the air that suggested that challenging any decisions or actions by President Bush, or the Secretary of State, or the Secretary of Defense, or Homeland Security, or being leery of the hastily passed Patriot Act was somehow unpatriotic -- which is an ignorant way to look at Americans who exercise their civic responsibility to question what they suspect potentially unconstitutional and view as contrary to the foundation of the American ideal. Perhaps, when I said that I'd accept writing that was critical of the government but would not use anything "seditious," that quelled any critical writers. If it did, I regret that. It's not that I wanted the criticisms, it's more that the lack of any disturbs me. The United States of America is supposed to be about, among other things, open and lively debate about ourselves, our government, our leaders, and all our actions as a people and a nation. Squelching that debate is, in my mind, what is unpatriotic and is tantamount to treason, if not legally, then certainly ethically, morally, and spiritually.
Enough September 11 poems were coming in that I could place a new one above the masthead in the WG Reporter for the next several months. I could have continued the practice up to the one-year anniversary of the attacks. But a little into 2002 I decided to close off acceptance of September 11 writing for the special collection. It just seemed like time. I didn't placed a moratorium on the subject, just on adding to the special collection. Although, as indicated, I received some writing on the subject since that is added in this chapbook, along with the previous work
As I contemplated production of this chapbook, some other considerations seemed to need addressed. Why even do it? It seems like an easy enough answer. But there are those who've had a problem with these poems and essays, especially poems about Ground Zero. I got some emails from New Yorkers who were upset thus. Their sentiment was essentially that those who weren't there should not be writing about being there, should not be commenting on an experience they did not really have. I think I may have some understanding of the feelings and thoughts of these New Yorkers, who actually stood on New York streets and watched the planes hit and the towers fall. I think, too, with a little more certainty, that they misunderstood the point of these poems and essays.
First of all, offending anyone or showing any disrespect was not the intention of the writers, of that I am confident. It certainly was not my goal when deciding to create the collection. As I told the New Yorkers, I very greatly regret offending any of them or anyone else. I have only the very vaguest of an intellectual understanding of the experience any New Yorker (or Pentagon person) had on that day, and of its import to them.
If someone believes the composition of the poems and essays somehow cheapens or exploits the event, I counter that I believe they are written to express real feelings, both of the authors' own sadness, grief, anger, and horror, and of support for those who were there.
I would be an idiot if I didn't think there are some people writing September 11 poetry and prose more as an intellectual exercise. I would be a bigger idiot if I tried to discern which writers those are. What I had not considered was how it could be a reminder, that I'm sure only adds on to other unavoidable reminders, of the event for those who were there in New York, at the Pentagon, the friends and family of the passengers in the field and on the other planes -- all the dead.
I live hundreds of miles from all three 911 sites, have only spent the total of a few hours in New York City, and yet still September 11, 2001 was one of the worst days in my life. I can't conceive of how this isn't true for people who live farther away than I and have never been to, nor ever will be in, New York City.
It makes no sense for me to be audacious enough to even begin to compare the pain and anguish those close to the attacks experienced with that which I did -- I doubt mine is even a fraction of theirs. That, however, in no way invalidates the pain, anger, sorrow, confusion nor fear I and millions-upon-millions of other Americans felt -- none of who live at all close to Ground Zero, Washington D.C., or know any of those who died to save the Capital Building. Our pain, anger, sorrow still belonged -- belongs -- to us.
Of course, the attacks in New York and Washington, and the plane downed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, by those particular heroes, were international events. And they were some of the most significant events in American history. My best friend's mother was scheduled to leave the Boston airport for Ohio the afternoon of September 11. That's not as close a situation as others -- but that's too damn close, for my friend's mother, for him, for his children and his sister, and for me. As I stated earlier, mine and my coworker's concerns about our safety -- being in such proximity to a potential military target -- were real. No one can invalidate these things for me.
No one can invalidate the millions of similar moments from the lives of millions of Americans, in Florida, Idaho, Hawaii, ad infinitum. Some of them needed to share these fears, these sorrows, this uncertainty, and the cultivated empathy they've attempted for victims in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. If they put themselves at Ground Zero in a poem, its a metaphor for how they were there (are there) in spirit, how they feel anguish and outrage for the disgusting offense laid bare at those places.
I wish no one had been or will be offended. Yet, I stand behind the publication of the work and support those who wrote it.
first appeared, in a slightly different version, as an essay on the "From K.L.'s Desk"
page at the WriteGallery Creative Writing Website on Friday, May 3, 2002.
|For the index of K.L.'s creative writing and essays at the WriteGallery, click here.|