Dust, tears, planes and names

It has been twelve years since the September 11 attacks that changed our lives and country. For some, the day will always stand as the day a loved one or friend was lost forever; for others, like me, the memories do not include the pain of that loss, but instead mark a time in which we lost what little of our innocence that might have remained up to then.

When I think back to that day, I first remember confusion: the confusion of not understanding what was happening around me, and of the sight of the Pentagon, so close to home, in flames, and most of all of the towers of the World Trade Center folding into themselves, almost gracefully, billowing dust and death.

Planes fill my memories, too: the planes that hit the Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania field. The phantom fourth plan that, at the time, was thought to be headed to Dulles airport, close to where I was working at the time. And then, that night, planes taking off from darkened National airport, all night long, until I sat straight up in bed, unable to sleep anymore for the sound of them.

I also remember what lower Manhattan looked liked, which I visited while on a business trip a couple of weeks after the attacks. My company had its headquarters on West Street, right next to the Trade Center, and although I couldn't get to the building, I got close enough to see the neighborhood, until then a friendly and exciting place, devastated. A war zone, with dust so thick it looked even then like a blanket of beige snow that had covered and, strangely, seeped into the buildings.

My most enduring memory, though, is of tears. I cried for two straight weeks, to the point that my kids would sometimes find me in the kitchen, head down, crying over a news report that brought the memories back. At some point I realized that this wasn't healthy for them or me. So I bundled up the newspapers and magazines, putting them away safely, and stopped watching the news for awhile.

The memories are softer now, the sadness, too. But they are there, not so far from the surface, as I learned on the 10th anniversary of September 11, when I allowed myself to watch again some of news reports and programs from that day and the following weeks. I cried again, as hard as I did the day it happened.

So today I'll be letting the memories come back a bit. I'll also be remembering those who died. Two in particular are special to me. I knew neither, but wrote about both on my old blog for the 2996 Project that started a few years after. And I remember them again today.

In Memory of Stanley L. Temple

2996 lost. But never forgotten.
The Names - Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.


Popular Posts