Living in New York, you think you've
Not that 14th Street, your street,
had seemed a likely frontier. You
knew global warming was going
to flood Manhattan, making all downtown
a shipwreck. Some day. But
And not that if you'd been that guy
in the subway in Washington, D.C.,
and everyone's cell phone started
ringing, you'd have known what was
going on either.
Not that a manual on flying a commercial
jet is the same as flying it. Not
that Venice, Florida, with its shitty
rental cars, should be confused with
Not that the Mayor's emergency bunker
under #7 WTC was such a good place
to hide. Not that you cared to make
further criticism of that government
idea or any other at the moment. Though
why someone would form a motorcade
to a secret location, unless it's
a decoy, is a mystery. Not that decoy
had been a staple of your vocabulary...except
as referring to duck hunting, which
Not that your young mother, working
at the Pentagon, had expected the
highest clearance. Or to know about
Pearl Harbor hours before she could
tell. Not that everyone wants to hear
immediately about tragedies. Not that
a drill is the real thing. Not that
the real thing is readily recognizable.
Not that it wasn't bad timing that
your lover's father had been moved
from Florida--by the two of you--to
the Bronx the day before.
And not that it wasn't puzzling to
have paid September rent plus deposit,
3900 each, to install him in assisted
living, only to be asked to move
him out. Not that people with Parkinson's
can always help drooling.
Not that you'd have planned your
last communal experience before it
happened, to be at Ikea buying him
Not that you were offended at first
by Attack on America. The same
tag line for every program you could
get on TV. Meaning cable and only
CBS of the broadcast channels, since
they hadn't ever taken down the old
antenna. On the Empire State Building,
from when it was the highest
point in New York.
Not that you'd ever paid attention
to the Woolworth Building, featured
in the first hour of coverage, and
certainly not to its height, dwarfed
at the tip of Manhattan. Frankly,
you were concerned about the ground
level Woolworths, disappearing like
black holes that sucked down into
them all the little tools and objects
of the universe. Not that you remember
half of what those were now.
Not that you hadn't complained about
your lover's 45-minute showers. Not
that you'd have been with her that
morning otherwise. Where would you
have been? On the map of uncanny places...not
where assassinations take place, for
example, but where people were when
they heard. Empire of a single tourist.
Make a dot for Disney World, with
the imposter Goofy and the imposter
Donald Duck, in Orlando, Florida.
(Pencil in the whole damn state: #1
in carjackings, #52 in health care.)
You hadn't intended to feel sad when
they closed it.
Not that you thought canceling an
election--even a local primary--was
a good thing.
Though not that the last election--for
President-- topped your list of outrages
Who ever thought they'd wonder where
Air Force One was?
Or in their lifetime visit www.fbi.org?
Defend the stock market's right to
The Japanese proverb that didn't
apply: Fall down seven times, stand
What wasn't the marathon: a horde
of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Not that everyone was Caucasian and
not that everyone was old, who escaped
hair to shoes frosted white.
Imponderables: the one who had cramps
and drank the vodka, the one on vacation,
the one who told the boss go fuck
yourself and quit. The one who had
to have the bagel. The one who was
always late. The one who voted come
hell or high water...twice. The one
whose dog wouldn't pee. The mother
who time-shared. The screenwriter
so broke she took the bus to LA and
not the plane. The one who in the
eighties became a coke-head and never
worked again. The one who had a terminal
illness anyway. The chef of Windows
on the World, floor 110, who veered
off for eyeglasses. All that food
And the destiny of paper: reams prematurely
to the shredder, all documents in
the Disaster file. Passports
and drivers licenses unnecessary for
impromptu free fall. Wish you were
here crossed out.
Written in disappearing ink: a window
Floor 25, BlueCross BlueShield. Forget
your catastrophic coverage.
Not that they let stand the
remark that it happened in New York
because of all the abortionists, feminists,
lesbians and the ACLU. Not that you'd
thought of yourself as controlling
Not that they let stand the e-mail
sent to seventeen thousand people
on the Left Media List: I am pleased
to report that it is NOT TRUE that
4,000 Israelis did not show up for
work at the World Trade Center on
Sept. 11. Please forgive my mistake!
Love and Peace and Blessings,
name withheld in poem to avoid lawsuit.
In a flash poll, 61% of Americans
favored waging war. 62% weren't sure
on whom. Your lover said, Between
evil people and idiots, we've had
Children are the only logicians:
The girl who said, So if they didn't
like New York, why couldn't they just
ignore New York? The boy who when
told there were people missing asked,
Are their mothers looking for them?
Driving back to the City, three
days later, from an emergency trip
to your own mother in Boston, you
were mildly surprised to pass a check
point. Not that you expected warships
in New York Harbor, where your ostentatious
friend had rented a boat for the Bicentennial.
Everyone got seasick from the wake
of so many pleasure crafts and threw
up their fancy dinners. It was 1976,
the last time you saw so many flags.
The Javitz Center reminded you of
Woodstock. Minus the music, admittedly.
All right. Plus the National Guard.
But there were the reserves of food
stacked to the spirit of communal
destiny and the unilateral high hopes
of youth. Still, those helicopters
weren't about to download ten cases
of artichoke hearts from the now defunct
Concorde Hotel in the Catskills. An
acid head's feast. You saw two girls
in hijabs and tight pants riding a
sawhorse from a barricade, being cruised
by two Hasidic boys trying to outrace
their coats. A pair of debutantes
accepting free Cokes from their ghetto
counterparts, who magnanimously threw
in a straw each. Everything comes
in twos, apparently.
The Twins as celebrities. The most
recent subjects of the serial neighborhood
murals: RIP Lady Di, Mother Theresa,
JFK Jr., Selena the pop star shot
dead, and Lisa shaken by her crack
head step-father. Or was it Marta?
Well, anyway, one of those girls.
Like Greek tragedy, no joke.
Union Square was the opposite of
a rogues' gallery: Thank God for scotch
tape and color xerox and digital photography,
for part-time actors' head shots and
yearbooks. The ugly rejected passport
photos, the wedding albums of the
divorced. Authors' book jackets, expired
IDs, last year's Christmas cards,
the calendar from Fotomat, the Polaroids.
Thank God for all flat surfaces. Before
it was understood that, like the flight
crews, no one would be found: Hung
from a wall, a king size bed sheet
with the names in Magic Marker of
the permanently sleeping, captioned:
American Proud and Tall.
United Through it All.
And underfoot, Ode to a Flight
Attendant on cardboards taped
haphazardly to the sidewalk. A kite
tail too heavy for the kite. Grief
is like a dream in which all wishes
of the dead are granted. A mother
now writes of her daughter, Distinguishing
Features: tongue ring, fish tattoo.
Your own mother can't remember
if she's taken her pills or where
she lost either plate of her dentures.
Both pairs. But she remembered where
her hair dresser was. She cleaned
out her bank account, not to pay him
or contribute to the $2000 replacement
teeth but to hand over a month's Social
Security for a cruise that she was
offered over the phone for free. Not
that that could be attributed solely
to dementia. How could it be free?
my brother yelled at her, if you gave
Korsakoff's Syndrome sounded like
something romantic but it was just
short term memory loss from alcoholism.
Not that you could call all the makeshift
morgues ghost towns exactly...since
no one had ever lived there.
And not that those towers were our
redwoods if you're being literal.
Not that a human chain is the best
metaphor for a policeman leading a
whole floor of people by hand down
95 flights of a pitch black stairwell,
albeit with a better than average
flashlight. Maybe picture DNA, so
unfathomable as to be beautiful. Or
something ordinary but almost crazy,
like a conga line.
Not that one woman who wore a placemat
over her face to breathe, actually
thought it was Afghanistan. Though
try running when you're wearing a
And not that the Taliban--who blew
up the two largest Buddhas in the
world--merited special consideration
anyway. Unless everyone deserves a
second chance? Fair enough. Pick a
number between one and 110.
So if we've had the disappeared and
the homeless, is it now the pulverized?
The minced-meat? Previous to this
you associated body parts with serial
killers, one problem New York doesn't
have. Not that you could have imagined
in your wildest dreams your lover
saying, It's the bodies, after
you commented that the workers were
cooking again in the basement below
your window. The wind had shifted.
OK, so you're not a pacifist any more.
42, 000 windows. 16 acres. 5,843
dead or missing a week later. The
devil is in the details.
spelled with four x's
Funkmaster Flex and Boris
You wanted to be superheroes
But ended up Rap DJ's
on a billboard.
Imagine a better resume:
your upon-a-time grand plans seeing
Desired job: rescue worker
When available: immediately
How do you see yourself in five years?
Capable of heroic measures.
Interview: Myself and EMT Ramos
have been part of a trained force.
We've been treated with oxygen. We
follow orders. Did you see any
deaths? I witnessed a disaster
beyond my wildest dreams, ma'am.
Your friend, older than your mother,
who climbed down 43 flights of stairs
and was finally being elevated back
up was asked by a TV reporter,
if she'd known at the time that everything
in her apartment was going to be destroyed
what was the one thing she'd have
wanted to save?
The view, your friend said.
Further evidence of ruin: the name
Mohammed Islam on a hack license.
Can the personal be tragic?
Is one the loneliest number?
Not that fitting your mother with
a diaper that weekend was as bad as
the devastation at home. But not that
a part of you--and her--didn't wish
she'd been blown to smithereens too.
Not that she would remember thinking
In the Bronx your father-in-law
(in a better world) was the same irritating
man. Falling out of his wheel chair
trying to pick up a paper clip...hording
electrical cords without plugs...using
batteries with just enough charge
to ruin music. He sprays the cans
of whipped cream directly into his
Not that the movers, meanwhile, driving
via New Jersey, had planned to run
their truck into the George Washington
Bridge. Clearly, ripping a hole in
your own roof is not a terrorist act.
So three of the terrorists turned
out to be from Delray Beach, Florida,
where you spent September 8-10 packing
up one old man's paltry and final
treasures. The same place where later
they found the first Anthrax. If you
think life isn't a mystery, ponder
Or the randomness of sweethearts:
someone clasping the nearest hand
to jump with that person off a roof
a man on a cell phone connecting to
911 and his soulmate operator from
One rumor was the shower of gold
rising from bullion reserves buried
under the buildings. Survivors saw
this as a miracle. For them it was.
And the rest hardly more credible.
The special dogs scrambling over the
smoking rubble, who when being bathed
and rehydrated strained to return?
How they could identify the traumatized
workers--though maybe that was everyone--wasn't
explained. But their paws became so
sore and inflamed that Patagonia donated
little pads. Where is that
again? I asked my lover, who was reading
aloud the paper. The company,
she clarified. They donated gortex
pads. Forgive me for thinking
The new grammar:
A flight attendant is not a stewardess
A fire is not a paring knife to remove
a person's skin just so.
An airplane is not a yo-yo. It can
go down but that's the end of up.
A subway is not a chute to hell. It's
A gap in the skyline is not an amputation.
An amputation is nevertheless not
by custom performed with an airplane.
Disaster Zone is not a good
sign for your nephew's bedroom door
People can't say, and mean, that they
were lucky to have survived high school.
Honestly, analysis never prepared
you for this.
Other things you never expected
but secretly may have hoped for:
The Queen of England to sing the
Elizabeth Taylor to slip into the
Armory on Park Avenue to visit the
The Gurkhas to be sent on assignment
in Afghanistan. How often have you
heard Whatever happened to the
Gurkhas? Not often enough.
The high school marching band from
Huntsville, Alabama, that played,
standing stock still, at the site.
The psychic in Brighton Beach who
came out of retirement to help find
the living then stayed to contact
the dead. The mother and son who drove
straight through with crawfish from
Louisiana. The Oregon tourists who
refused to cancel.
So what if Kate Smith commissioned
God Bless America to have a
So what--you half mean this-- if the
Yankees lose the World Series.
And so what if your cell phone won't
work from the subway never mind a
It's become a cliché: location,
location, location. And yet
Suddenly nothing else matters.
How could all that happened
Have fit into one week for one reason
in one city?
Because this is New York.
Where else would the 21st century