I was running late, exhausted after a weekend at Sisterspace, so didn’t have the TV news on, and for some reason didn’t listen to NPR on my drive to work, so I didn’t know until I got into the office where my co-workers were standing in a startled huddle. I got online immediately, and kept the link live so I wouldn’t get bumped as the networks became overcrowded.
After that it all ended so suddenly. My colleague Alicia called as I sat down, for burning papers were blowing past her apartment in Brooklyn and she was terrified and had to have a human voice on the line. Then the first tower came down about 40 minutes later, and Center City Philly began to evacuate only a little while after that. After a long, surreal journey back to my neighborhood, where it was a sunny day full of children’s voices as schools dismissed, I started writing. I didn’t know what I was writing, only that I wanted to keep what I knew as each moment went by. I knew at least a little of how events would unfold, how propaganda would begin, how the stories would change, how someone would be attacked and destroyed because of this. I started a journal in poetry, not prose, because at first I could only get bits, flashes, of attempts at language for what was happening. I continued with poetry, or at least highly-concentrated prose, because I wanted to record, not to report or explain. Just record.
I wrote daily, or more often, for the first two weeks, and then the recording stopped as the meetings began, trying to organize in front of the war monster crashing in. After that, I’ve done a poem a year, tracking how the stories have unfolded, how “new” events are tied into those days.
Below you’ll find all of these poems, titled by year. The poems after 2001 are all connected to some specific date, event, line, or image from the original poem. I’ve hyperlinked the work, so, as you’re reading through the 2001 poems, you can jump to subsequent years as you are reading. Or you can simply read the works chronologically. Or maybe read them backwards, from what we know now to what we didn’t fully know then.
I haven’t changed any of the the poems as I originally wrote them, as a matter of historical record. My understanding of Islam, of role the U.S. politics in the Middle East, of gender in those politics, have all come a long way since those weeks of confusion, of world-up-ended. There are things I would no longer say, or say in the same ways, but my voice then stands for its own time and place. It’s an ongoing problem in leftist politics to pretend that we’ve always known the newest “right” analysis, to be afraid of saying we once thought differently for fear of being labeled racist, elitist, colonialist, etc etc etc. I’ve played that game, but won’t anymore, and if we can’t talk about what we’ve learned, and how, we’ll leave a legacy of accusation and self-righteousness rather than the complicated deepening and challenge of real learning.
To refuse to give in to socially-trained fear of the Other, we must also include the other selves we have been, the other selves others have been. And isn’t that refusal to be afraid one vital necessity we learned in the face of the crude, vicious vengeance that followed that clear, haunted Tuesday?