By Kevin Slick
There are so many pictures frozen in my mind. A family album that doesn’t have to be opened to be re-lived. There was that perfect autumn blue sky, just so blue, so blue that it almost hurt to look at, that perfect blue with a jagged grey cloud ripping across the middle of the sky, like a gash in the atmosphere, a hole in the universe. There was the man covered in dust standing next to me at the 14th street subway station as we waited to see if any trains could still run over to Brooklyn. And there in an abandoned lot off Atlantic Avenue, a homemade American flag nailed to a piece of wood in the afternoon sunlight welcoming me home. But the image that always comes back first is the light coming through the window of my classroom after everyone had left as it gently floated through the window onto the newspaper that was lying on my desk, filled with words that no one would remember. And I stood there to try to understand that moment when all those words would be re-written and this day would have forever a new meaning. I stood there trying to understand, but couldn’t. I could only live in the moment, and so walked outside and headed south toward that ragged tear in the sky.
I bought a newspaper on the way to work this morning.
I thought I would talk with my class, fourth grade at P.S. 116, about the primary election for mayor. After all there would be people in and out of school all day since it was the polling place for the neighborhood around 33rd and 3rd.
But we didn’t talk about the election.
The voters left early, if they came at all.
By three o’ clock in the afternoon I was alone in my room.
Sunlight was coming in the window at an autumn afternoon slant
Dragging long shadows across the front page of the newspaper,
Still lying where I left it on my desk.
No one will ever remember the stories from the front page of today’s paper.
No one will ever think of this day and talk about the election
Or any one of ten other stories that were worthy of the front page of the
New York Times on September 11th, 2001.
I walked downtown
Smoke arched across the sky
People’s faces; grim, vacant, worried.
We talked to each other like people at a funeral;
“How are you doing?”
“Are you okay?”
The streets, a constant stream of fire trucks, ambulances, police cars.
Police on every corner
Crowds gathering at the hospital a few blocks away.
And the people’s faces, unbelieving
I can’t believe it.
(how many times have I said “ I can’t believe it” when I could have said “that’s surprising” or “ I didn’t expect that”)
Now, I really can’t believe it.
Tell me again,
Those two buildings are gone?
The two buildings I see from my window every day?
The two buildings I rode past this morning on the train?
I saw an old man walk out onto 3rd Avenue and stop traffic because some people were walking up to a hospital helping several others who appeared to be bleeding or injured in some way. It was perfectly normal, and all the cars stopped.
He said that it was what he had to do. That’s what we were doing there that day – “what we had to do”
When I returned home to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn the man who owned the middle- eastern restaurant on the first floor called me “brother” and offered food. I joined others from the street and we ate in silence together.
Later I heard someone say “There are no words”
The next day.
Everyone is in motion today.
On Fulton street the sun is shining and the streets are full of people.
Loud dance music rips out of a store selling stereos.
A man is begging on the corner, shaking a cup full of coins endlessly.
Now he switches hands and adjusts the volume on his Walkman. He’s looking all around and no one is looking at him. He looks around some more and drives his electric wheelchair away.
The other people on the corner just keep talking and ignoring the place where he was.
It seems like this city is too big to slow down, even with the heart torn out, the body is still going through the motions. If you chose to ignore media and not look across the river you could pretend nothing had happened.
I want to believe that nothing has happened.
This morning I work up and prayed for it to have all been a dream.
The sky is still so blue today
Only that one line of grey
Grey smoke to the south that lays across the sky.
It looks like rain clouds,
Long, low rain clouds
But it’s too sunny for rain.
There’s a cool breeze
Like the best ocean breeze on the last day of summer
It’s such a beautiful day
Such a beautiful day.
Is it nature, or God
Trying to say that life goes on?
Is this a day to help us heal?
Is this a day that covers the terrible with beauty?
This beautiful sky lies across our lives
We are held together under this sky
Held together by each other
By our heartbeats
Beating out a rhythm together.
I heard a woman say
That the most important thing in the world
Was the smell of her daughter’s hair when she hugged her.
I can see the sun as a fuzzy white ball in the grey, cloudy sky.
In Union Square there are huge crowds
Gathering around signs, candles and pictures
Offerings, gifts people have left.
Behind me, a group is singing “America The Beautiful” some of the crowd, however are only singing the first line of the melody, having forgotten the rest I guess.
The result is an edgy harmony as one group repeats the same line over and over.
People have written poems
And the word “Love” appears over and over again.
I’ve been writing what I see and feel, waiting for words to have some meaning again, but I can’t find the meaning.
I’m living on faith that the meanings will be revealed sometime, maybe someday.
But I see that I’m in the midst of a living poem, the voices, the pictures, the streets themselves, the city itself is singing.
Whitman was right, this is America singing, the varied carols I hear with melodies hard to understand and words that tear and strain to rhyme but still singing. The music is un-planned, improvised, ragged and beautiful.
Why are we all here, right now, at this moment? How did we get here?
Maybe we’re all here just to be next to other humans
Every sound is muffled, like a church
This seems like a sacred site.
The stained glass windows have been replaced with
All those pictures
Thousands of pictures.
This whole city has become a photo album
A large family photo album.
Walking down the streets, I feel like I’m leafing through memories
Memories shared with strangers.
Back yard picnics
I’m looking for my family here
Looking for faces I recognize
And I realize I know every one of them.
I can’t sing
I want to sing, but I can’t find a song to sing
Not one song
Not one song I can sing
But all songs
I have no song to sing
Unless it’s all songs
I try to speak but I have no voice
Only all voices
I’m calling on God
But I think God will only answer
To all his names
To all her names
Spoken as one.
One blue, heavenly sky
Covers us like a prayer shawl.
I want to wrap myself in the sky.
I wrap myself in these pictures
The quilt of life
Of lives sewn together on the streets by broken hearts seeking peace.
I stand with others, with everyone
In search of release.
My feelings pour out on the names
On the faces
And I think all my feelings have gone out of me
But new feelings appear
Like waves on the ocean, endless
The best I can do is open my heart to the emotions
The way a rose opens it’s petals to drink the dew
And I release those feelings
Like the rose gives up it’s petals.