On this day before the 9th anniversary of that terrible Tuesday morning, I feel moved to share with you an excerpt of a poem I wrote entitled, “Not like TV” from the book; 911 the Book of Help/Authors Respond to the Tragedy. (2002, Cricket Books.) Edited by Michael Cart, Marc Arronson and Marianne Carus with artwork by Chrish Raschka, it features a who’s who of amazing writers & poets, including: Katherine Patterson, Avi, Arnold Adoff, Nikki Giovanni, Sharon Creech, Walter Dean Myers , Naomi Shihab Nye & Sonya Sones, just to name a few. This really is a collection of reflections, raw and uncensored written in the moments, hours, days and weeks following the 9/11 tragedy. My poem was written some two or three weeks after. Finally summoning the courage to make my way downtown to the scene of the crime, to see it with my own eyes. Although I was living in Manhattan at the time, I was not there on September 11th 2001. I was home in Yellow Springs, OH with my late mother, Virginia Hamilton, who was undergoing cancer treatments at the time. On that very day.
What struck me on that first visit to “ground zero” was the sheer magnitude of the whole thing. The complete and total devastation of life and property that in no way could even begin to be conveyed in the least, through such a cold medium as television. This was something you had to see to believe, to start the process of understanding what had actually happened. Hundreds of floors, thousands of lives—gone in seconds. It was the absence of, that haunted me that day and still does. The absence of good, of hope, of light. Hell had come to lower Manhattan, and in those first moments of my visit it felt as if I was standing right in the middle of it.
But what we saw on tv was a vague approximation of what was really there, or better yet, what wasn’t. What it looked like up close, smoke still coming off metal, weeks after. The smell, the look on the faces of the recovery workers. But there was something else too. A feeling that tugged deep at the innermost core of my being. And it was that feeling that I attempted to put into words on that cool fall day in 2001 . . .
. . . As I turn the corner, reality smacks me in the face and kicks me in the stomach.
Its not like what you see
That last piece of twisted metal hovering over what once was.
Looking like the grim reaper, five stores high…
. . . They carry untold souls on their shoulders, buckets of agony in twelve-hour shifts.
Digging through hell, I can tell, they’ve seen things a person should never have to see.
Seen things they’ll want to forget, but never will.