This month, September, marks the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. A day or two later, Lynn and I were staying at the house of friends in Ojai, California when, sitting alone, I read an account of the aftermath in the New York Times.
September 14, 2001
Here, all around me, is a landscape
begging to be painted.
Beyond the redbrick terrace
blue and purple plants crowd in;
species that I’ve never seen before.
drifts of giant sage, lucantha,
and here and there a common rose.
Beyond all this stand orange trees and limes
and lemons. Further out, beyond the reach
of water pipes and hoses,
are arid places with clusters of spiky succulents,
and part-dismembered, unattended cacti.
Above the borders, bees dart
among cascades of flowering herbs,
while butterflies, like shreds of tissue paper,
swirl and rise and fall.
The scene is mute and motionless.
No foreign sound, no breeze, no barking dog,
no distant drone of planes or traffic,
or the laughter of playing children.
But now look down. Here, open on my lap,
the Sunday paper shows an anguished and
chaotic scene two thousand miles away.
A photo shows the silhouetted,
criss-cross lattice of the shattered towers’ remains.
A devil-made design that could,
were it left unsalvaged where it stands,
become a starker and more telling monument
than any man-made memorial.
And on another page, portraits of two
dozen wanted men, their faces
grave and troubled, even shameful,
as though they’d had some premonition
of their act’s outcome.
Two pages on – the tragic flip-side of the assault
– are fifteen portraits of dead and missing victims,
their faces smiling, or in repose. Each bears
some eulogistic paragraph:
the scoutmaster; a man called Yang,
who earned ten bucks an hour; Katherine who
loved the stage, Ruben, the Michael Jordan fan
who lived for sport.
Hundreds of such pictures have appeared
and there’ll be thousands more.
Reflect. How different did these gentle faces look
in their last fear-frozen moments?
Meanwhile, the nation reels,
vowing not to turn the other cheek,
and speaking of revenge, and war.
And after this carnage, dare I demand:
where is God, all-knowing, just and merciful?