September 18, 2009
It blew in like a hurricane from hell, pouring by 8 a.m. when the victims’ family members began reading off the names of their lost, often losing it themselves. Perhaps it was a rain of tears, a storm whipped up by a wind of fury that the ache of loss had not washed away with tears or the rain or the eight years passed since 9/11/01, on that loveliest of cloudless, sunny, cool fall mornings, accentuating the irony and pain of remembrance still more.
Even the young protesters from WeAreChange.Org were sparse, staring at the rain and wind tearing umbrellas away, leaving them to hunch in ponchos, jackets, or bare it all in their black and white 9/11 Was an Inside Job T-shirts. I didn’t arrive unti after 10, and then, did so with a feeling of approach avoidance. The suffering of these events was silent even for those who hadn’t lost anyone specifically or perhaps a friend or acquaintance or two. Yet, the cops were there and the endless barricades they had set up, creating a maze just to get from the subway to the Vesey Street side of Christ’s Church. Nothing like a bit of harassment to start the day.
Of course, I remembered the earlier years of 9/11 when the church, the graveyard, the stones and iron fence were a grayish white, a ghost landscape thanks to the pyroplastic cloud of a million tons of concrete and poisons and god knew what else that settled on them, the earth, the surrounding streets, even as thousands of visitors flooded in from all over the world, some of them victims’ relatives, others simply there in sympathy, some in sheer curiosity at the devastation.
Physically, Ground Zero hadn’t changed that much since then. The only newly constructed completed building you could point to is, ironically, Larry Silverstein’s Tower Seven, a large thumb in your face that made you want to snap it off at its joint to cause that sonofabitch sitting up there a pain back in kind. I’d heard him earlier on Channel One TV, whining that he couldn’t get the full financing he needed to complete the projects of rebuilding that he so cannily had cornered. Perhaps it was his payback, above and beyond his $500 million insurance profit for Tower Seven alone that helped him put up his building so quickly.
One’s mind flashed over the usual 9/11 suspects as the wind and rain beat on your face and washed them away, cooling your simmering emotions. In fact, there among the gathering crowd of protestors was my friend John Uhlich from Chicago, standing with a poster of his 20-year old cousin who had been lost in Tower One. John, an engineer on the Union Pacific line, made this pilgrimage each year to honor his cousin, and to protest the infamy that brought that young life to its violent end. I had befriended John the previous year and shown him then the first copy of my new book State Of Shock – Poems from 9/11 on. He greeted me with a smile and firm handshake. We’d had dinner the night before and he brought a copy for me to sign.
I immediately felt better, realizing the only real destinations in life are people, those who put a human face and emotion on landscapes, who bring it alive with their talk, their knowledge, their experience. At some point, Luke Rudkowski, the leader of WeAreChange came over and told us we were about to march to Tower Seven and should do so in twos, loosely banded, as if we weren’t connected, as if that would fool anyone that we were one solid band of protestors. Nevertheless, we did our best to play the game and placate the cops, leaving sidewalk space for the curious, the press and steady stream of working people for whom this might be just another day.
In general, there seemed to be fewer police, especially the storm trooper types, with their mottled bullet-proof vests, automatic rifles crossed over their chests, and neo-Nazi style helmets fastened by chin-strips, black from head to jackboots. They often stood in lines across from us, at attention and at the ready it seemed to open fire. Rumor had it, though, that many scattered throughout the ranks believe in us and our cause, especially given their numbers lost in 9/11’s grim chaos. I had some trouble believing it, because like the firemen, bless their soul, these men and women were generally conservative, whose employer after all was the government, among which were the true perps.
Nevertheless, a tone of mutual respect governed the scene, with the exception of two provocateurs. One had on a chartreuse wig of feathers and matching body suit, the other dressed like a prehistoric gorilla. Their design was to start trouble and make us look crazy as they were to the cameras and passersby. I won’t grace this page with their names. For me, they are barely human, nameless troublemakers, agents or nutcases most probably being paid by one agency or another to try to start trouble. The WeAreChange Security identified them to the police who told them to take off. And they did, fortunately for them.
One of the beauties of these marches is that during the times between marching, when traffic is being allowed to pass, you meet new people of like minds, exchange information and stories, and get a sense of the deep concern, deep as your own, shared by these people. It buoys your heart which is often sunk by the deadhead skepticism, close-mindedness you are met with by every day people, wise-asses looking for trouble, and those who look at you like you were committing some travesty of disrespect against the dead and their families, when in fact you are seeking the justice they themselves wish for the true culprits.
So, this is a psychic as well as a physical march which takes your energy on both levels, so you must lift your spirits with your fellow-believers. This year, again, in the windy, relentless rain, those spirits seemed dampened as well. Yet they trod on. At some point in the afternoon John and I leave the march for some lunch, some soup and sandwiches at a friendly Greek deli. We are both attending the WeAreChange event at Slate, a club venue, at 5 PM which would feature a number of first responders, activists, and even me, reading from my book. So John and I were nursing our energy, particularly myself, who had been battling a cough for the entire month of August. This business of protest, I had to believe, took its toll on you.
As we sat in the bustling deli, the sounds of life went on, people at late lunches, the clatter of plates, laughter, conversations in several languages, all I thought that went on that first 9/11 in 01, when it all was so suddenly shattered by the smack of airliners, the explosions beneath and above and all through the Towers, coated by aerosolized super-thermate, thanks to nanotechnology.
All the talk, the laughter, the intimacies of fellow workers I envisioned shattered in an instant as that first plane hit, and then the second, and the mayhem was ubiquitous, the sliding falls into that pyroplastic cloud that roamed the streets like a wild tsunami, engulfing all in its wake and leaving a ruin that would claim the lives and health of many thousands of first responders, what I called the second round of slaughter. But here I was moving forward again with John in the rain and looking at life in the rearview mirror. Lunch over, we found the subway and disappeared uptown, agreeing to meet at slate between 5 and 6 PM.
Somewhere the march continued with the bravest of souls from the west to east side of town, turning the heads of the straight and narrow, stopping others in their tracks, chanting sound-bites, telling people whether they wished to hear it or not that there was another way to think about this tragedy, that it was just one more in an ancient history of false flag operations, to create a reason to attack those from whom you wanted something, in this case Muslim oil and real estate, and ultimately hegemonic control of the world in a New World Order.
Those brave marchers would settle at One Police Plaza, in the belly of the potential beast, trying to convince even its protectors that we/that they had their brothers and sister’s best interest at heart. This was no mean feat and not for the feint of heart. But then these young people of WeAreChange and allied groups had the zeal, the strength, the conviction of the brave at heart. And in their raspy chants, sore by now, from the cold, the rain and the wind, they made themselves felt and heard, at whatever cost. Bless them all.
At a quarter to six, the rain and wind were still at it, as I reached Slate’s club, carrying a carton of 20 of my books to sell or give away. I had a copy in that bag with the 10 or so poems listed that I had carefully picked out and timed. I had half an hour. No sooner did I arrive and some young fellow was making a beautiful, impassioned speech on behalf of the first responders, Luke asked me if I wanted to go on next. Next, I just got here! He looked and smiled, why not? For real why not? Okay, let’s do it. But I need a stand, Luke, to put my book and papers on. No problem.
[efoods]The crowd was my exhausted brothers and sisters having a drink in a large circle around the speaker and mike on its stand. They went hundreds deep, from all walks of life, the bold, the quiet, the thoughtful, the truly hurt, the smart and smarter, ex-veterans of Iraq, first responders, sympathizers, marchers, one muscled arm and fist. My god, this wasn’t your 92nd Street Y literati set (and who wanted them). These were my people.
Before I had time to take off my rain jacket or sweater or wipe off my sweat, Luke introduced me and life pulled me into the light, my hands shaking, the mike before me, and I talked to the crowd, read to them, poured every bit of strength I had to bring those poems (written for them) alive. And it seemed to work. No one threw fruit. But applause sounded every each piece. The gauntlet, the trial by fire, turned out friendly, and when I was finished, many hands thrust themselves out for shaking, many pats on the back came, and I was home among my people. What a great feeling.
Past me, came others. First responders who told of endless sufferings, of insurance companies trying to minimize their chronic, killing injuries, lying doctors saying they were exaggerating, crippling their souls and those of their families. They had thousands of dollars a month in drug costs. One man, who had been a volunteer from Pennsylvania, who had simply left work on 9/11/01, drove to Jersey, parked his car, and walked the Washington Bridge, then traveled down to Ground Zero to work in and around the pit ceaselessly. He was there with his son of seven or eight on his shoulders, a beautiful blond-haired boy. They were heartbreaking, the two of them, and he with his tales of illness received in the name of his effort to help his country.
I found out later the man’s name is John Citara. Robert Wanek wrote a piece about a Fundraiser For John Citara. This link will take you to WeAreChange. Scroll down until you find the article.
There were several others who were half-crazed from fear and pain, one man on suicide watch, struggling with an existential turmoil and pain that one could barely imagine. They were simply staring death in the face as life went on in this warm room filled with friends, warmed with alcohol, and out of the wind, rain and chill. My friend John was near and other friends of mine, as well as my wife. The barrage of pain we took was only a shadow of what was felt by these desperate and loyal souls. If there was a god in heaven, was he listening? Would he or someone bring justice to these sick and dying men? Could all of the efforts of the healthy have an effect? One could only hope and pray.
At some point, exhausted from my own physical issue, I said goodbye to my friends and left with my wife for home. We walked through the somewhat subsided rain to the subway, looking like a bunker for a coming onslaught that I didn’t even wish to imagine. And the train roared into the station, swallowed us into its rainbow crowd, and rumbled uptown to our stop. We got out, stopped at a small, inexpensive French restaurant and ordered a late dinner, practically speechless, not aided by the overly loud music.
We ate with the relish of real hunger. Paid the check. The handsome French owner offered us each a 50 percent off card good for dinner any Tuesday night. Life could be sweet. Bon nuit. We stepped into the street. The rain and the wind were gone like the day itself. The air smelled clean and fresh. Life went on all about us on Broadway, from beautiful people to perennial beggars. We walked home.
I watched the tail end of a Yankee game, in my pajamas, in bed. My wife straightened out the house. Life went on. Life goes on. Tomorrow, Saturday was another day of 9/11 events at St. Mark’s Church. Sunday the sun was promised and I was headed for the woods upstate. I fell asleep before the game ended, listening to the crowds from the stadium cheering for something. Maybe it was simply for the joy of being alive. Bless the living as we mourn the lost was the last thought I remember having before the curtain fell on another day. And we shall overcome!