A Diary of Change

On the 18th anniversary of the day our world changed – forever.

zack-gwen-twin-towers

September 12, 2001. Last night I looked frantically for the picture of my SAVAR students on our yearly trip to NYC to no avail. But I can still see the their faces. BJ’s thousand watt smile, Kim, Thea, Byron, Jessica, Tiffany, Kristy, Nikki, and Katie all in adolescent poses of deep friendship. There were more but these faces found the camera at every turn. It is what I see when I close my eyes. And I could be wrong, relying, as I do, on the sovereignty of memory. I could be thinking of the picture we took on the eighty-third floor of the Empire State Building – different year but some of the same smiles and definitely the same Twin Towers in the background. I will always remember these pictures and yet over time I know these memories will fight a losing battle with the vision I beheld Tuesday, September 11th. Shocked, I watched the south tower as it belched smoke and flame. I saw the second plane bank and then plunge out of sight into the tower behind, propelling the fireball out beyond the south tower. I knew then that this plane was not coming in to drop flame retardant on the first tower – as I first thought. My heart raced. I held my head. Only later did I curse technology. Oh to return to the world of word-of-mouth transmission. The time when one hovered around the television or radio, listening to the newscast as it was filtered through the minds and hearts of stoic announcers. I thought of Cronkite’s voice coming over the speaker in my junior high library and how it cracked and caught on the words that president, John F. Kennedy was dead. That was a time when we were allowed space to form our own mental pictures of catastrophe – however tragic. It is different now.

 Yesterday I had a student write in her English essay, “Change is inevitable…” At fifteen she knows this. And here I am, half a century in age and barely able to remember when a postage stamp was two cents and the closest war was the ‘gas war’ happening over on the boulevard. I’ve missed something about change. Maybe it is the sameness of my days; the only changes are the ones I make.

 Now, my days are changed. An unseen hand has written a tragic script complete with murderous planes. How does one teach this? I don’t want to gather my son and the sons and daughters of others around me and have to explain hatred and intolerance. I fear it is completely beyond my ability. And yet I must.

 I left school on that Tuesday with nowhere to go. Everywhere there was nothing but television news so I watched my son’s soccer practice. I sat in the bleachers reading the local paper, the last one printed before the attack. I could believe, for a few minutes anyway, that the news of the day was light. Periodically, I’d look up at the boys and girls of various ethnic backgrounds on the soccer field in the bright sunshine. The day was exquisite, with the green hillsides only hinting at the golden leaves to come. On the broad expanse of lawn I witnessed young people in innocent athletics giving high fives to friends and competitors alike. I could have stayed there forever, a frozen tableau of perfection. No hatred, no intolerance, no headlines of alarm.

 A student asked about our annual New York City trip. I was resolute in my response. “We will go. That’s one thing that will not change,” I told her. But change is inevitable. A fifteen-year-old told me this. And she was right.

April 2002. The New York City trip did happen. Phantom of the Opera enthralled my forty-five students, most from the hinterlands of rural western New York. On the subway to South Street Seaport, I decide not to make the trek to the hole in the ground that changes forever they way I view human nature. Most of the young people go with another chaperone. A few students stay with me and the vendors of cheap memorabilia. I sigh with relief. I am not ready.

Our chartered bus is faithful to our departure time and, after a last minute buying flourish of knockoff glasses and watches, we depart. I count heads then relax amid the excited chatter of adolescence. Even as darkness descends I sense we are on THAT parkway. My senses are validated by the silence that befalls the group. The bus slows to a crawl – not for traffic but for the view of the remains of the Twin Towers – the hole that has swallowed my city memories. I thought if I didn’t look – maybe things would become unchanged. I looked.

I admonish myself for my foolish, pretzel logic – to think we could achieve some type of retro-sameness. Like the skyline of lower Manhattan, we are all forever changed.

GDF – 2019

 

THE LIFE LIMITED

tracks

Not the express train –

The uneventful

Quick-trip to decay

 

We’re on the Limited;

Confined within limits

On life’s platform

Night watching

Brief recognition vanishing outlines

Illuminated windows, They stare ahead

Silhouetted profiles against flashing light

Glimpsing the gold coins of

The Paradise Express

 

We remain for the day

As we see ourselves

Age and wisdom

In separate cars

On that same track

Tearing through

A landscape of

Scattered grace

 

NOV. 15, 2015: Headlines – A Poem

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Attackers in Paris

‘Did Not Give Anybody a Chance

as if chance played with motive

none are chanced

when death is not feared

FEAR:

it is all that keeps us good

and goodness is relative only

to the god one is willing

to die for

this god militarized,

weaponized

expanded

personalized

assault driven

a god unknown to

civil – ization, decency

lost in three hours

of hell;

a lifetime

of blood spillage

all red being read

in black and white

newsprint echoing ancient

tales written down

the original sin

in concert with the

unconscious brain

man-made insult

the beginning of pain

the parchment of war’s genesis

held tightly in the

fists of bloodstained

armies ordered

young conscripts

avenging lives dear

motivated

by chance

motivated

by fear

cropped-parthanon-relief-greek-soldiers.jpg

THINKING OF SUICIDE WHEN THE HEAD- LINES SHOULD BE ENOUGH

2 NYT headline

Send Kevorkian away

His services unnecessary

For the slow death

That comes from the congenital

Uncontrollable urge

To read the daily newspaper

(And not the easy living sections either)

Always, like magnets,

Injustice draws the eye

The travesty of the slaughtered

Lions,

Ideas,

Ideals,

The travesty of the disenfranchised

And the people who struggle

For some semblance of happiness

In pictures of mothers and fathers

Running ragged

Across borders children in arms

Tripped up by reporters’ cameras and legs

That horrible hubris at center stage

Every day

Clothed in the 1st world democracy

Of law & order

Laws written by beneficiaries of

The order

Meted out by chanting trolls

Ignorant of humanity

I’m sure I will die a death

By thousands of strokes

Of a newsroom keyboard

A slow death

Swaddled in helplessness

My own keys taking

Weakly vicious strikes

At an enemy

I refuse to acknowledge

As I brush my teeth

In clean 1st world water

Eyes downcast

I turn out the light

Leaving the room

Before the enemy arrives

In my own reflection

THE 5th OF JULY

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The “why?” that cannot be identified,

Defined beyond its face

A hazardous life with Newton’s law

Setting the young in motion

Long columns of face-blind,

Ghost-eyed pawns to war

For liberty and commerce.

And we celebrate – loudly

The necessary battles

On that slow arc

Rumored to bend

To perfection

A Country For No Child

Jaime Kalenga, whose mother died in labor, suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis. Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times
Jaime Kalenga, whose mother died in labor, suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis. Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

There is a country rich in diamonds,

Oil and foreign sports cars

I know this – having read it in

The Times

This is a country in which one child

In six will die before the age of five

Says The Times’ Kristof

But I live in a country that cares

About children – Some of us

Care so much we call authorities

On parents whose children walk

Home from the park – alone

Keeping our children absurdly safe

Ignoring the Angolan mother holding

The “twig limbs,” swollen belly, wizened face

Of the near carcass that is her child

She’s waiting for care from the few who do

Those people who come from far off places to nurse and

Heal everyone’s children

Those people who know that diamonds

Are friend to no one

The people who recognize

The diamond’s sparkle

Being stolen everyday

From the eyes of babies

Leaving in its place a

Haunted spectacle, skeletal frame

Held together in wrinkled brown

Wrappings of skin

THE LIFE LIMITED

train head-on

Not the express

The one gladly missed

Dawdling on life’s platform

Counting cars

Windows flashing light

Quick, dark faces inert

Blank stare ahead

Glimpsing the gold

Coins of paradise

Gone too soon

We, unhurried & unnoticed

Age and wisdom

In separate cars

On that same track

Tearing through

A landscape of

Scattered grace

MARCH 3rd

cropped-icy-road.jpg

It’s still here; winter

Marching to that clove of seasons

We remain road-kill

Frozen, run over by ice and time

Clutching fingers stiffened releasing

Any vestige of warm memory

And all the light

That winter allows

To see war as it is

(Not the misguided

Miscalculations of man)

But nature’s

Mysteries of the obvious

BIG PINE KEY

BPK vultures

The vultures have been hovering over the island for weeks now

Swirling in great black theatrical wakes

A pre-migration event I am told

I am just now noticing the ugly

Close scrutiny over the streets and inlets

The search for dead flesh in the untrodden grounds

Divorced from Key West bound traffic

Maybe the vultures know something we don’t

That we are simply players in that Twilight Zone episode;

Humans imprisoned by personal need

To escape a turn-of-the-century Salvation Army toy chest

Alive until touched by strange hands

Becoming wooden & rotten

Death by ownership

 

Maybe the vultures know this

Which is why they stay

THE MUSEUM OF LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING

red door

Where we keep our humanity

Hermetically sealed

And in the future they will come

Down long google-glassed tunnels

To collect artifacts

Heartless facts from

Our artless landmarks

Blind to the act:

Giving succor to the enemy

Night on the battlefield when mountains

Of hatred became mere

Mounds over which we stumbled with gifts

The weight of humanity too great

Too heavy for the light of day

A light used to make way for

The resumption of war