I was in the subway, the #2 Express, on the way to work—which was on the 23rd floor of the south tower—when the first plane hit.
I work 9 to 6. This day, I was determined to get in early, because of the large amount of new work I had taken on. But being “not-a-morning-person” and a chronic late-riser caused my get-in-early aims to turn me out as only being on-time-as-usual.
Normally, I would exit the #2 at Chambers St.—six blocks north of the World Trade Center—and board the #1 Local to complete my commute at its next stop, Cortlandt St., right under the south tower. The first odd thing I noticed was the unusually large number of people queued up at the Chamber St. platform, waiting for the #1. I felt irate; I hate delayed trains, especially in the morning rush.
As I exited the #2, the overhead speaker tinnily gave news: there would be no #1 service from Chambers St. to South Ferry. No reason was given. A collective groan went up; some got back on the #2, others joined me in going above-ground to walk the remaining distance. A minor irritation, but I had done so before.
The next odd thing I noticed was the sound of police-sirens, and a crowd gathered in the street. (From where one exits this station, the WTC Towers are obscured by an immediate building). As I rounded the corner, I then saw what I thought was confetti, streaming high and eastward; where was the parade? Did this have something to do with the Mayoral Primary Election that was to take place that day?
After I fully rounded the corner—that’s when I saw what had happened to the north tower. I ground to a halt, slapping my forehead as if my brain couldn’t handle what it was seeing. It was as if a black mouth, full of twisted steel teeth, had wrenched open through the north face of the tower, belching smoke and flame. The “confetti” was papers—an endless stream of loosed papers, merged with the bizarre streamer-like trails of hissing, burning things.
I joined the many, gaping upward, trying to use their cellphones which wouldn’t work. (They relied on the antenna atop the north tower). Women cried out and cupped their mouths. An older woman beside me began to hyperventilate as she fumbled for a cigarette; “breathe in, deep breaths,” I found myself saying to hear, reassuring hand on her back. Suddenly, all the restraints and withdrawals with which we normally insulate ourselves from the strangers in the crowd, were lifted.
A woman cried out and hid her eyes, turning her back to the scene: she had just seen a human being fall—or jump—from on high.
We were clear of the streets as dozens of police cruisers, ambulances, and black cars with sirens ablaze flew past, charging to the scene.
First assumption was, of course, a bomb had been set. The word was out that “a plane had hit it”—an out-of-control private plane? What could do such damage? Was I to go to work that day, since the south tower was unharmed?
Then the second plane struck.
It sounded like a thunder crack, a firework. Many gasped or shrieked and jumped to the side as the cascade of debris plumed outward. I wound up in the frame of a closed shop’s doorway with a woman who cupped her hands to her face. Our eyes met; hers welled up. The mutual thought did not need to be spoken “people”! People, up in that building, had died, right then and there. And all this was no accident.
Time to get the hell out of here. I turned and started walking northward, in shellshock but functioning utterly practically. This didn’t seem “real”. Tell me, it was just CGI special effects, right? I thought of my nearest acquaintance—fortunately, I had one in the West Village—to where I could go and beg use of their phone and e-mail, to tell those who know I am there that I was OK, unharmed—but that many, many were not.
And I felt deeply worried for the morning-people, the early-risers, who, like but in advance of me, were just going to work on a beautiful blue day.
Since then, I have still been in a bit of shell-shock; I doubt I’ll ever be able to “fully grasp” what has happened. I am numb, lethargic.
But twice now since, as if through a process of sublimation, I have been moved to create. This gives cause for hope: something good and creative can come from something horrid and destructive. Three days after the attack I composed a musical piece; tonight (9/18) I composed a poem, upon returning from the popular memorial in Union Square.
It stems from my perception of the great liveliness of the whole WTC complex, the “personality” of the architecture, so animated by the activity of all the people—vendors, tourists, workers—who inhabited it day to day. I’d look out my window, facing north, onto the plaza with its great fountain, and see the hustle-bustle amidst all the other buildings, to be joined-in upon my lunch-hour.
That is what I want to remember. And what a loss, what a loss, that great setting of activity, of people from all over the world.
THE SONG OF 7 WORLD TRADE
Cry for me, my city, my street;
Cry for me.
For now in this dusk, this dust, this heat,
I cannot feel my feet, and
I grow weak.
They are gone, my giant sibling twins,
Gone with a vengeful ire,
Having given way to Gravity, and Fire.
Who shall now uphold the sky?
Who shall keep eye on that farthest horizon?
Shall these tasks fall to me? So much their lesser,
I admit: it cannot be.
Cry with me, then, my city, my street,
I am now but a shell of sorrows,
Hollow of spirit, full of ghosts and grief.
Thus forty-seven stories now complete, and
Even I could not foresee
Though the tale was told twice today already:
In steel and stone, glass and concrete,
Flesh and bone.
Fifty thousand footfalls where now there are none.
My time is come; I am undone.
My heart is broken.
My back is broken,
And I cannot feel my feet;
I am fifty thousand sorrows
As twilight falls, falls like me.
Cry, cry for my memory, my city, my street.
Upper West Side, Manhattan