“Not Like TV”/911:The book of help


A collection of photographs of those killed (e...

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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 MyersNaomi 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
on
tv…
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.

My thoughts drift away on smoke and ash
as the last recovery worker passes by . . .
His hard hat twisted, like it’s trying to slide off his head.
One side of overalls falls down to very wide waist.
Everything on his body—trying to run away. Trying to escape.
He looks through me, through the small crowd.
Walking past a newswoman interviewing a cop, he doesn’t stop.
I turn my head and he’s gone. Gone into the dust.
You can feel the loss of life pouring through the gate, you can feel . . .
all the husbands and wives and sons and daughters and fathers
and mothers and brothers and sisters . . .
I’m taking it all in, trying to at least.
It’s too much. All the suffering starts to seep into my pores, filling
me with despair and
pain, and hate—but there’s a moment. A second where I think I
can feel what they felt,
what they felt in that instant the sky fell, and the ground caved
in below them.
For a second, I think I can feel
What they felt . . .
For a second
I think I can.
For a second.
It’s not like what you see
on
tv
not like that at all . . .
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4 responses to ““Not Like TV”/911:The book of help

  1. Though not the same magnitude with loss of life and created by nature rather than by terrorists, I truly understood the not being able to comprehend the magnitude of it unless you saw it in person with Hurricane Charley in 2004. It was supposed to be a little Category 2 and hit Tampa, an hour north of us. At the last minute (literally) it strengthened to a Category 4 and suddenly curved south. For a time they said Venice where we live would take a direct hit. Ended up hitting about 30 mins. south of us in Punta Gorda. We went there 3 months later. 3 months. And even then the devastation was so immense as to be impossible to take it all in. Not a building untouched, blue tarps on roofs. Many buildings with only partial walls still standing, piles of rubble still to be cleared from buildings completely demolished.

  2. This is a thought provoking post and helps me clarify my own ideas about 9/11. I’ve never fully been able to grasp the intensity of that horrific event. Because all of my thoughts come from regurgitated imagery or stories I’ve read from people that were affected. My only real experience of 9/11 has been through the media’s eyes. I have feelings and ideas about that day but the horror of it all, the anger of it all, the confusion of it all, comes from thoughts and images that have been packaged for me.

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