9/11 in L.A.: A Poem Written on The Day

It reminded me of, "The War of the Worlds" -
that old and infamous broadcast by Welles -
what I heard when I turned the radio on
around eight a.m., having left my son
for the fourth day of the seventh grade at
his school in Laurel Canyon.

On our way there, streaming along the streets,
I marveled at the lessened traffic,
while my son sneaked a nap in the back.
"What time is it?" He'd perked up when I turned
into campus. "Twelve of eight" I answered.
By then in New York there were no
World Trade Towers, and in Virginia
the Pentagon was in flames.
But I didn't know then when I pulled in
for the drive-in and the drop-off.
I heard a girl say, "Mom, I wanna go ho-ome,"
I attributed it to some teen-trouble
I was not yet called upon to cope with.
I said, "I love you." I said, "Good-bye."
He said, "Yeah." He waved and walked away.
At the wheel, I tried to imagine why
the girl who had just arrived
wanted to go home.

Then, switching my radio on, I heard
the swirl of sirens, breathless, frantic talk
about people whose skin was coming off,
people on fire leaping from towers,
city canyons overtaken with smoke,
talk of how quickly the towers came down.
What, I wondered, was it? And, was it real?

"I saw the planes go into the towers,"
said George, calling us at home, from Mexico,
where he - the world already was watching.
"Well, you've seen it?" he said. I hadn't. No.
"No..." I said, "No, go on." He said. "Oh,
that moment, like something in a movie: no.
It's not fair to compare this to a movie."
But the horror, the terror of Tuesday
were of such a scale and of such a scope
only Hollywood had prepared us for
I tuned in. I turned on. I spent the day -
with CNN and the BBC,
with MSNBC and NPR -
collecting quotes and images.

Here they are.

"Our fellow citizens, and our freedom, came under attack today."

"An American Airlines jet is lost, 150 people aboard".

"The President cut short his trip to Sarasota, Florida

He is on his way to Washington."

"How did the CIA not know about this?" Commentators ask.

"But, how many of these have we broken up-?" They ask back.

There's a new thing: asymmetric warfare.
It put the hole in the U.S.S. Cole and
made the embassies in Africa explode.
Strategy, secrecy and precision.
This is the day of extreme terrorism.
The attacks get geometrically worse.

"Twin Towers World Trade Center Collapse After Crash

of Two Airlines."

"Would you call this, 'An act of war?'"

"United Airlines reports a plane missing. 110 people aboard."

"Three weeks ago in London..." Peter said

on CNN, "There were warnings, whisperings of,

'...a huge and unprecedented attack

on the U.S.'" On us. Someone there said,

"Osama bin Laden said with a smile,

'The Victory of Yemen will continue.'"

"How could this happen to the safest country on Earth?"

"Any country which shelters or harbors terrorists

responsible for this attack, is functionally culpable of the events that took place today."

The man in charge of security at
Logan Airport, fields questions from the press
about Logan Airport. It's not morning
to him: it's midnight. He's grim at Logan.

"Is there another plane out there somewhere?"

He could not confirm. He would not deny.
I ask my husband to drive: get our child.
I want him home with us. I want him home.

"Nothing like this has happened in U.S. history."

"This has been compared to Pearl Harbor."

"The President is in Louisiana."

While calm, shown over a video-phone,
a man of the Taliban is shown live
from far-off Afghanistan. Now he waits
for translations before he can answer....
He sits on the floor. He seems to sway.
"bin Laden is incapable of this,"
the man of The Taliban simply says.
He shows neither shock, concern or surprise.
In the metal rim of his glasses, there's
a white light trapped. It slides to the left and gleams, it seems to scream - then glides to the right.

"We need more human intelligence capabilities. Intelligence that determines motivations before acts occur."

"I don't think our lifestyles are going to be the same for a long time."

"The President is at a secure site in the Mid-West."

When my son comes home, I get out ice cream.
We are grave while the blender cuts and whirs.
We are grave while he drinks a milkshake.
We've never made a milkshake in the morning.
A plane flies overhead, he looks alarmed.
I smile. I say, "Everything is all right."
I think of the mothers in London's Blitz;
how did those mothers watch children play
ball or marbles while waiting for bombs?
I say to my son, "On Pearl Harbor Day,
your grandfather worked at The Chronicle
in San Francisco, at the city desk.
He wrote the lead for the paper that day."
As my son sips, I can tell he's impressed.

"Airline Crashes in Somerset, Pennsylvania."

"This is a fluid situation. It's changing all the time."

"The U.S. is a unique power, a uniquely open country, and we are uniquely vulnerable."

"And now the President will speak to us."

He walks into a room somewhere, maybe
Louisiana, perhaps Nebraska.
Only there's no audio -- the picture
breaks up, looking like something by Hockney.
In New York today the twin towers fell,
in Virginia, the Pentagon's in flames.
A plane that was bound for the Capitol
came down in a field in Pennsylvania.

"It is a day of unnatural visions."

The towers of steel, aluminum and glass
converted in an instant into flames,
a gas that pursued people down the streets
crouching by cars, by curbs, wherever they could.
It coated the living with dust, with ash.
A video camera trembles records
Frantic shadows pursued, hunted by smoke.
The smoke is systematic, democratic.
It skips no floors. While wordless, wondering,
motionless, trembling and appalled
spectators on a corner watch the smoke
burst downwards floor by floor by floor by floor.

"This is the sort of thing that makes us rethink


"Can you describe what you saw there, Mr. Mayor?"

"Most horrific scene I've seen in my life,"

says Rudolph W. Guiuliani,the Mayor of New York.

He went downtown when the first tower was hit.
He and his aids were trapped nearby
in a building at 75 Barclay Street.

"Our thoughts are first for the enormous loss of life -- the loss of fire fighters and police officers alone...." He stopped. The Mayor of New York could not talk. Then, he started again.

"And for the tragedy going on in lower Manhattan."

There are one hundred and seventy
hospitals in New York. All are in triage,
ready for a steady stream of ambulances.
The Red Cross will be setting up stations
for blood donations. New York City is
on heightened alert. New York City is
secure. Everything is safe right now in
New York City. New York City is closed.
While at the site, they say, there's silence
and there's shoes.

"Everybody in their own way should say a prayer,"

said the Mayor.
The Mayor, the Governor and their men answer questions.

"What is the composition of the smoke?"

"What is the radius of the damage?

"How many casualties do you expect?"

While these words are seen; they scroll on the screen:

"50,000 people worked in the World Trade Towers.

"Each of the World Trade Towers has 104 floors.

And 21,800 windows."

"The towers were built by the Port Authority

of New Jersey and New York.

Tower One was completed in 1972.

Tower Two was completed in 1973."

"The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear," said the Mayor.

"53 injuries reported at The Pentagon after a plane hit the west side of the building."

"For security reasons, the Secret Service doesn't want the President in Washington."

"How could this happen to the most secure of secure buildings?"

"No one can stop our freedoms and our way of life."

The New York Primary is suspended.
The ballparks are closed. The U.N.'s empty.
Trains New York bound are told to turn around.
A sign on the drive nearby New York reads,
"Serious Problems: Avoid New York."
Congress is evacuated. U.S.
airspace is closed. International flights
are diverted to Canada. All planes
in the air are ordered: land anywhere.
Both Disneyland and Disneyworld are closed.
And at The White House, there's nobody's home.

"Yeah, we should retaliate, but who are we going to hit? Who are you going to go to war with-? I mean,

We don't know who we're fighting."

"Get the President to The White House: send a message."

"Has anyone taken responsibility for this?"

There is a street in the Middle East where
some people cheer when they hear the news.
They wave from their cars, honk and celebrate;
an old woman does a dance, little boys
wave little flags; children are given sweets.
When they hear, some men grin from ear to ear.

"This is a sweet," says one "from Osama bin Laden."

"We have a report that there are good indications

that people associated with Osama bin Laden

are responsible for the attacks."

It was a complex plan carried out by
many, and at multiple airports.
The terrorists took over the cockpits.
Surely they knew what they were doing.
They knew to fly a plane, to make it hit
a target: a tower, the Pentagon.
Surely they knew what they were doing;
they chose planes for their flammability.

"You think of the normal people in those planes -

I'm sure there were teenagers, babies -

that suffered tremendous terrorism.

Those people knew that something horrible

had come into their lives. And they knew it

for a long time."

"Make no mistake, we will hunt down and punish those responsible."

The first plane penetrates the north tower
at 8:48 a.m. in New York.
In Los Angeles we were asleep then.
The second plane flies into the south tower
at 9:03 a.m. in New York.
In Los Angeles we were asleep then.
When the third plane hit the Pentagon in
Virginia at 9:45 a.m.,
I was awake and so was my son.
He was in the bath. I was making bacon.
As we sat down to eat the south tower
came down in the street. The Pentagon fell
as I suggested jam. The fourth plane crashed
when he said, "No." Then, we got up to go.
Around the time that the north tower fell,
I found my son in his room. It was dark.
He was in a chair, doing something there.

"You're going to be late," I said. "Hurry up."

It fell when he snapped a school binder shut.
It all seemed the same the day the world changed.

"We will do what is necessary to protect Americans."

During our breakfast, a fax had come in.
I'd heard the ring, but I didn't heed it.
I didn't read it. I thought, "It's just some
cell-phone deal, some dot.com liquidation."
Later, I saw it. I read it, it said,

"Tragedy on the East Coast."

"But make no mistake, we will show the world, we will pass this test...."

In New York today the twin towers fell;

in Virginia, the Pentagon's in flames.

A plane that was bound for the Capitol

came down in a field in Pennsylvania....