E. came over to see us today—so terrified of being alone that she’d begged some friends in Park Slope to let her stay with them. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to hear about this on your own. I knew if I didn’t get out of my little apartment with its gaping hole in the ceiling and its pile of disconnection notices on the table I would lose my mind.” She sat in our garden huddled in the wicker armchair talking a mile a minute, absorbing our fellow human company like a drunk sucking on a bottle. It felt good to be able to make her calmer, offer her some human balm. “My book is finished, Ben,” she said. “No one wants to read a thing like that now. And, you know, the funny thing is I don’t really care right now. I’ll go on and write something else. The world is going to need writers. Even poets, maybe…”
Yesterday afternoon Nina and I went to a vigil outside the State Street fire station, a lovely little red brick building housing the 226 Engine Co., which lost four men in the attack. A huge American flag hung from the upstairs windows, flapping lazily and a black Baptist minister gave a sermon through a megaphone about the human family. “Even if we sometimes wish some people were not part of the human family, the fact is we are all members of the same family, and as family members I tell you we must learn to love each other…” It was bombastic but affecting in its way, a group of several hundred of us gathered around, white and black, some of the older black women punctuating the sermon every now and then with an “Amen!” or a “That’s right!” I felt as though I had stepped deeper into the great America drama than ever before.
This morning I came across the makeshift memorial in Washington Square Park and was astonished by the diversity of the comments.
NO PRISON FOR
KILL EM’ ALL!
DISCOVER ALTERNATIVE ENERGY—
NO MORE OIL
I’m so sorry I failed.
DEATH TO BIN LADEN
New York is a place
where even the ugly returns
you to the beautiful boundless
soul of its inhabitants
Don’t mess with the US
because you’re messing with the BEST
Yesterday we met after work with the intention of going over to the West Side Highway to cheer on our brave rescue workers (Nina’s idea, not mine), but when we got there it all seemed so creepy we chickened out and came straight home instead. Parked all along the side of the downtown lane were dozens of media trucks, their shiny white satellite dishes cupped expectantly to the sky. It was very quiet, only a few cops on the street corner, and a few tents in the central meridian under which people were dispensing food and water. Natalie said further up the highway there were endless refrigerated trucks waiting to pack up the body parts—all hardly conducive to any gung-ho displays of cheerleading. In the evening Andrea came over, very sweetly bringing some home-made honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. “I’m basically a food Jew,” she said, “but this week I’ve been to Temple twice.”
A relapse today. The shock comes in waves, and to my surprise, I find myself feeling more sad and fearful than since the day it happened. Sleep doesn’t seem to help much either, both Nina and I are getting bucketloads of it—thick, dreamless slabs of nine or ten hours a night—and still waking exhausted. Some respite comes in talking with friends, some in drinking (the liquor stores in midtown have sold out of pint whiskey bottles, according to E.), some in just looking at people on the street—jolly breasts jiggling under tee-shirts, plump young buttocks, crazy curves. God created all this, too, I remind myself, and they give me faith that precious life, precious flesh, can’t be stopped.
Everywhere you go you can’t escape it: “Melted the metal, simple as that…” “When the second plane hit…” “Safe, thank God…” “Bombs won’t work…” In the White Horse Tavern last night Natalie said German troops are practicing catching chickens and plucking them in training for survival in Afghanistan. “There’s nothing out there,” she said. “It’s just rock.”
I’ve gone through shock, gone through sorrow, and now, God help me, I’m on to fury. Farewell to all those initial dove-like sentiments. I want the people who did this crushed like bugs; I want them dug out of their bunkers and roasted alive, incinerated by whatever high-tech toys we have at our disposal; I want the whole, terrible arsenal of the West aimed at these fuckers. I want the ultimate revenge—I want them to die without their God.
An absolutely beautiful New York morning. As I crossed Washington Square Park, the sunlight was so heavy you could almost touch it, buttery and thick. It’s supposed to hit 80 today, yet the promise of fall is in everything—one of those days when New York seems the only possible place to live. The memorial around the arch has been removed, and all that remains are a few black stains on the ground where the candle wax melted and a withered bouquet of yellow flowers stuck in the fence. Already it’s as though the events of the last few days are receding, becoming old news.
All sentiments, dove-like and hawkish, have dissolved into a single dull mess. I no longer have even the most ambivalent position to hold on to. Now all I can do is mouth the platitudes we all do: “Stay safe”; “Be careful”; “Pray for the future.”
Yesterday, walking with Nina along the Red Hook waterfront and looking up at the skyline, it seemed hardly possible that such an act had occurred, Manhattan looked so glossy and perfect, the scar so invisible. “How did the towers ever squeeze in?” Nina asked, and we both stared in amazement at this picture-perfect, complete sight.