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Now We Can Begin

When the Skyline Crumbles
by Eliot Katz

Was sitting Astoria kitchen chair about to vote mayoral primary,
then would've hopped subway to work Soho's Spring Street--
turned TV on for quick election check when CNN switched
      to picture of World Trade Center #1
with surreal gaping hole blowing dark smoke out a new mouth.
Witnesses still in shock were describing a plane flying
      directly into the building's side
when a second plane suddenly crashed Twin Tower 2
and orange flames & monstrous dust rolls began replacing
      the city's world renowned skyline.
Soon the big city's tallest buildings crumbled, one at a time--
with 50,000 individual heartbeats working in Twin Bodies,
      it was clear this horror going to be planetfelt.

I stared stunned at TV another half hour, called Vivian working
      Canadian summer forest job to assure I was physically okay
& mourn together, then wandered my Queens neighborhood--
almost everyone walking mouths open silent, eyes unblinking,
two women & two men on 31st Street cried into cell phones,
      trying reach loved ones working the WTC,
a mover moaned Age Old prophecy to his buddy loading the van:
      “The world has changed, bro.”

Wednesday I subway'd into Manhattan looking to volunteer
      with bad back,
only found location to leave a donation check, all other slots
      remarkably filled for the moment--
also wanted to sense the air fellow Applers were breathing,
smoke that torched bodies now tangibly coating tongue &
      nostrils, dust burning all 3 eyes--
7th Ave above 14th St almost empty rush hour so our dead
      could be counted, a clear road to the next realm,
perhaps a friend's friend miraculously uncovered alive,
      given space to speed St. Vincent's Emergency Room.

Thursday I sat half hour Union Square with a Tibetan group
      meditating for peace
as mainstream TV helped lubricate America's war machine
      hosting Flat Earth hawks urging 80% toward retaliation
against Bin Laden or any country harboring Bin Laden's cells--
even as academic analysts noted moments before those cells
      now spread to 30 countries including US.
Fox News had hosted a discussion between the far right
      & further right--
Newt Gingrich: the terrorists should be found & crushed--
Jeanne Kirkpatrick: we already know who they are, why wait--
a procession of military experts advocating carpet bombs
      & napalm.

On Friday night, 3000 New Yorkers, mostly young,
      candlelit Union Square
to mourn the victims & stand for peace with signs like:
      “War is Not the Answer” &
“Honor the Dead; Break the Cycle of Violence”--
CBS-TV covered the event as another cute show of
      the city's spirit of togetherness
sandwiched between two dozen stories of a flag-waving public
      meat-hungry to support Bush Jr's rush to war.

After years of U.S. missiles flying into outward shores,
a decade after 100,000 Iraqis cruise missile'd to death
      under Father George
The war has now come home, where it's apparent to all
      what a senseless random murderer
            is the one-eyed giant Terror
how it eats its innocent victims screaming alive, feet flailing
how it breaks the strongest of backs, rips flesh wide open
how it tosses arms East, legs South, skull & genitals
      North & West
how it forces hardened athletes to dive head first 99 floors
      to a concrete death softer than its iron teeth
how it leaves no paperwork behind to comfort the living
how it answers pleading mothers & weeping babes
      with a knife to the belly, glass shards to throat
how it burns a skyline of fresh bones to fragile white ash

Now, we walk memory's long marathon to honor our 5,000 dead
now we watch a million New Yorkers work courageously
      to meet the initial test
daily tasks small to heroic, delivering socks, pulling two-ton girders
      off fallen firefighters atop creaky broken floors
ignoring fear everpresent, unknown particles filling the air--
now we see whether Americans can meet the next human challenge:
Protect the innocent & reject Terror in all its disguises,
      even strutting TV in our own leaders' garb?
Or merely act a mirror of its latest highrise profile?
The sometimes bitter juices of justice, law, human rights, & peace?
Or shot after shot of eternal bloodthirst?

©2001, Eliot Katz


Eliot Katz is a New York City poet and author of Unlocking the Exits (Coffee House Press). He is also a coeditor of Poems for the Nation (Seven Stories Press), a collection of contemporary political poems that Allen Ginsberg was compiling in the year before his death.

Next page > “September 12” and “Image” by John Kissingford...
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