In my words, October 7 – 13

On Tuesday afternoon I met Françoise on Rector Street at the R train’s downtown entrance because I wanted her to see the 9/11 Memorial before she returned to France. My friend lived, worked and wrote a novel in the East Village during the 80s and in many ways is a true New Yorker because her heart is here, she says, and no longer in Paris where she was born and raised. Paris, she tells me, has become a provincial town bought up by emirs, who come and stay for a couple weeks then leave the place vacant. Whole blocks of Paris are dark and quiet. Françoise lives in Normandy now and invites me to come and stay whenever I want. “I would love to,” I say putting that happy thought away as we walk west turning north on bustling Greenwich where the shadowy canyons of Lower Manhattan give way to an open clearing up ahead. The new World Trade Building rises reflecting the bright blue sky and clouds, much more beautiful than the two towers that were there before it, its spire resembling the Chrysler Building’s and the Empire State’s, a trinity of spires on the island of Manhattan now.

We get into the crowd of tourists that becomes a procession, two lines of entrance, one for those who have tickets and one for those who don’t. I’d gotten our tickets online and printed them out so we didn’t have to show identification, just offer our printed bar codes to be scanned before we were hurried along to another station where I’m told to take off my belt, get out my keys and put them in a tray alongside Francoise’s purse rolling away to be x-rayed while we walk through the metal detector, get our stuff and continue to another checkpoint where another guard scans our bar codes. I apologized to Françoise, as if all this security were my fault, but she assured me, “Are you kidding, darling. You must do that! My God if some crazy Arabs got in here and scratched up the marble, you’d be the laughingstock around the world.” I hadn’t thought of that and supposed it was true as we continued on through the wide long corridor boarded up on either side concealing construction behind while another line of people who’d been where we were going came at us and passed.

On entering, I see that there are trees, all yet with leaves; and around the huge open space are buildings that rise into the sky, the building to the east, facing us, the first I see, is of glass reflecting us—well, no, not us, but where we are. What I do see are the buildings behind us and the sky spreading west. In the near distance, perhaps two dozen steps away, is the first waterfall with its marble border bearing the names of those killed on 9/11. As we walk closer, I see the closest names are of firemen, some with little American flags and flowers stuck into their crevices, but their names give way to the water shimmering next to them near my fingertips reflecting the sky as it slips over the edge, a descent I cannot see even if I lean over the names and try to look; I have to look across to the eastern wall to watch the water fall to the next level of water, a square whose middle is a square also, dark going down toward a bottom that isn’t seen, a bottomless falling so present and constant we are drawn into it and feel like we are falling with all of those who fell “To the Styx” Françoise says.

Eventually we turn away and Françoise says “L’arbe survivant,” pointing to a tree I hadn’t noticed, a pear tree that survived the towers’ collapse, held up with wires and crutches now surrounded by tourists who’ve come to have their pictures taken under its lucky boughs. I got out my iPhone to film and pointing my camera first at the marble with the names I am a little surprised to see that my own name is sculpted there. I keep on filming even if death isn’t that far away.

It was as sunny and pleasant a day as September 11, 2001 when I walked to work thinking how wonderful life was. “It really was a lovely morning,” I told Françoise as we left the memorial and walked a mile north to Canal to have a bite to eat at the West Side Coffee Shop, chicken enchiladas with rice and beans, salad, and a hot homemade salsa. The coffee was delicious. From there we walked another mile toward 14th Street catching up, sharing, reciting, making plans, seeing sights that added and led to other thoughts and conversations, turning east on 14th, backtracking then another mile to my place to rest our feet and drink a glass of wine, but even sitting and talking is walking.

Sonnet 55

I’m cleaning into every corner.
I don’t want any dust. When I am through
the sun will shine in clear windows and you
will see the majestic willows over
across the street are looking back at us.
I promise you. You used to see the World
Trade Center from this room. It kind of whirled
around and then was gone, a lot of dust
covering us, smoke and a burnt bad smell.
But that’s now long ago and a busy
city like Manhattan is always dirty
so when somebody sweeps it, you can tell.
Like editing words, clearing clutter shows
honest as a poem the surface below.

Leave a Reply