Listen to Alfred Corn reading this poem. Time after time a glitch immobilized the screen At Windows Is Shutting Down, the program icon hanging
Fire in paradoxical support of its sign-off
Caption during that long month of graveyard shifts
And pre-dawn vigils I spent sifting online fallout
Of terror, pity, and insight posted to the globe.
Nine-Eleven, Nine-Eleven, hear it, a ravaged
SOS, our call to arms and talisman,
The dateline turning septic with its subtext, spun
Out by the Web’s ten-thousand arachnes, so many
Forwarding Auden’s “Those to whom evil is done do
Evil in return.” And done again by enraged
Coevals, sheer reaction’s critical mass redoubling
Topical fission, escalation, devolution,
A huge acridity that spikes air-quality graphs,
That floats down on a waterproofed black jacket’s yellow
And gray stripes as the bearded fireman doffs his helmet
At the sky, twin tear-streaks guttering a mask of ashes.
Time travel: From our early-’70s Grand Street loft space
In pre-consumer-heaven SoHo, W.
And I had contemplated the towers’ floor by floor
Ascent, a postwar symbol of extra-military
Triumph, material and pop culture scoring where
Napalm, exfoliants and M-16s had failed.
So empire might not seem passé, tired Unity bowed
And underwrote a new production, Concept Two,
The male North Tower sporting its TV broadcast mast,
The female South, an observation deck for tourists.
A few floors down, designer restaurant, entitled
Windows on the World: Where better celebrate
The publication of a poet’s debut volume?
One, we liked back then to patronize posh venues;
Two, a comment on its blue and orange jacket
Had called the book “a new window onto the world.”
Consolation for not being rated the latest star—
A Seidman, Burkhart, Jordan, Piercy, or Blackburn—
It mostly worked, though befriending envy sometimes hissed,
Those years I spent cooling my heels outside fame’s shortlist.
But not that day. From our table on floor 107,
I heard the City sing its psalm, high windows framing
Brooklyn and Verazzano bridges, the Woolworth Building,
Five high-rise mirrored boxes, Liberty, and the Harbor.
On top of the world, bask, green bardlet, in those spacious
Skies, don’t aim your telephoto lens at the future.
Where you’d see you, weathered, silvered, skipping farewell
Glances at a town three decades your home base.
For fame, whatever else it’s not or doesn’t do,
At least pays bills, the scrape and cramp that youth can finesse
Costing the veteran pain, angst, and sleeplessness.
Advanced degrees in urbanity packed up, July
2001, I dropped the gear in Drive and launched out
On the road, no landfall planned before late August.
Those not tube-addicts will understand how, absent
A shaken call from a friend reporting the first strike,
One nauseated witness fewer would have seen, no,
Felt in his gut both deathbolts and the dual collapse.
Felt through the media—TV, Net, and, before
Blackout, cell phones. Somehow I got through to friends,
None of them missing but all choked by poison gas,
Paralyzed speechless with the inconceivable.
Because the dead disown inflated claims, I have to
Question several statements made about the towers:
“An architectural masterpiece.” No, they were tall, some
High-rises elsewhere taller, and many better designed.
“The hub of U.S. geopolitics and trade.”
No, few that worked there qualified as global players.
“Site of the first homeland attack since Independence.”
No, see 1812, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor.
“The modern era’s worst disaster.” No, consider
Stalingrad, Dresden, Hiroshima, the Holocaust.
“New York’s chief symbol.” Not, in all honesty, to most,
No match for the Bridge, Ellis Island, or Liberty.
But place detachment beside a sense of mutilation
Inferno’s aftermath would trigger six weeks later
When my night flight on American approached
Ground Zero. Spotlit, twenty-four/seven rubble clearance
Replaced twin peaks naiveté once took for granted
In the downtown spreadsheet printout of Manhattan’s skyline.
Pilgrimage to the site required a mask to filter
Fumes that stank of burnt synthetics and calcium.
I choked up gazing at that iconic shard, a giant
Upended metal thumb-piano keyboard whose ragged
Elegy roaring earthmovers snuffed out as they
Processed remains of two thousand and more deceased.
Who won’t be back. And yet, almost as though to highlight
Absence, TV movie reruns these past months
Have been reviving, in how many slots, an image
Both stricken and eternal: standard chopper panning
Shots of the postcard skyline thrusting at us, and, lo,
The stereophonic comeback Symbol, tall as life.
Mortality, box-cutter in hand, conquers all,
A cockpit-crasher, terminating our dazed pilots,
Freezing the vessel’s forward mandate. … Does that senior
Chef taking bread from ovens in his vintage kitchen
Lofted among the clouds, detect invisible
Omens in the autumn light?—a bass-clef hum,
Endtime launched on its unyielding slalom, twin
Convergence that will call for shutdown once our client,
The kamikaze who refused to book a table,
Shows up to napalm celebration’s ever-afters.
Befriending soul, when lethal smoke begins to rush
From the broken towers’ crematory, will we hang back
In burning topicality? No, sings the window.
Hold hands, eyes meeting as they never have before.
Today your tandem launches out on visionary
Sunlight, to cast its lot with a world without end—
One extra encore for a pair upheld in zero
Gravity, anti-Lucifers, twin morning stars,
United Symbol here that nothing puts asunder,
Love’s company unlost so long as love proves life.