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Two Poems for the 10th Anniversary of September 11th

September 14, 2011

Trigger warning for violent imagery

Instead of doing the whole ‘this is what September 11th means to me’ essay post (which, to be fair, I did sort of do on the video blog you’ll be able to access next month), I’m going with poems. Yes, I write poetry. Yes, this is three days late.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s see how poems go over with this audience (be warned, the second one is mildly epic):


for the Second Week of September



Across Septembers certain things
still sound the same—

my little ornamentals:
secret sadnesses that swell
as low and shallow mordents,
slipping up sometimes to wash upon

the groaning principal:
shared sorrow necessarily
sustained on a sea string
of a cello
___________It is braced


this country’s absent calves,
and music flows from where they aren’t
like water through canals



Across Septembers certain things
still sound the same—

a stoic giu’ arco stretches out
from the clear, cool morning,

from the sun-scorched mourning,

from the rain-rimmed mourning,

From the clear, cool mourning,
the same stream spirals on
in a fathomless fermata;

there’s no signal, yet,
to stop


Reaching for Butterflies
(A Found Poem*)

* Sources:“Let There Be Peace, and Trade,” by Iver Peterson, from the June 21, 1998 issue of The New York Times; “The Height of Ambition” by James Glanz and Eric Lipton, from the September 8, 2002 issue of The New York Times.


____All successful people have
 ___stories that are part of their
 ___personal mythologies.
 ___The story about Guy
 ___Tozolli began in 1930,
 ___when he went to see
 ___All Quiet on the Western Front.___He left the old Loew’s
 ___transfixed by the closing image,
 ___Lew Ayers being shot
 ___as he reached for a butterfly
 ___in the trench mud of World War I.

Guy Tozzoli led the team
of dreamers, planners,
architects, and builders of
the World Trade Center.
Sometimes it seemed as if
he had personally willed
into existence the tallest buildings on earth.

The most beautiful moment
on his daily commute each morning
was his first view across the Hudson.
Some days the skyline appeared
with such clarity, contours
so stark, the view suggested
abstract sculpture,
carved of the water and the sky.
The eye rose
from the Battery,
settling at the obvious trail head.

But on that morning, Tozzoli
lurched to a stop.
In a motionless mass of cars,
he stepped out and stood
among dozens
confronted with an incomp
rehensible sight:
not far above his office
in the north to
wer, waves of thick,
oily smoke, bill
from a gash.

“It’s going to take us a long time
to fix that.”
No one answered.

Then he heard the scream:
the second plane gunning
past the Statue of Liberty,
an orange billow of flame,
chunks of steel, a blizzard
of paper.
Tozzoli got back in his car.
On the Manhattan side
he said, “Listen.
I built that place.
I’ve got to get down there
to help.”
“I don’t care if you’re the pope,”
the policeman replied.
“You turn this car around.”
For the first time,
was doomed to come undone.
Tozzoli and the others made
dozens of decisions, small and large,
many now half-forgotten,
deeply buried, like clues
beneath the rubble.
They determined the enormous size,
they shaped it
into an icon, they drew
the blueprints for its construction,
they had written the script
for its eventual destruction.
Dozens of decisions, become matters of death.

___A young engineer, a graduate
___of Fordham University,
___and a veteran safely returned
___from World War II, Mr. Tozzoli
___went to work
___at the Port Authority.
___“I come back and I go
___to work at the port
___building piers,” he said,
___“and who do I meet?
___Japanese, guys who went ashore
___at Iwo Jima before we did,
___and now we’re working together!”
___He began formulating one
___of his many ideas— Tozolli’s Laws—
___about the nature of business:
___“If we’re doing business together,
___we’re not going to fight each other.”

Minoru Yamasaki was introspective,
sensitive, small, delicate,
a Modernist.
He was enamored with sleek
new materials and minimalist
techniques. He had also
fallen in love with the romantic,
rhythmic arches
on the Doge’s Palace,
the curves and vista
of the Taj Mahal,
the austere elegance
of Japanese gardens.

His design forced the eye
straight up toward the sky.
“There was a wish and a need
to be able to stand back,
to see and comprehend.”
The World Trade Center would rise
from a broad,
open plaza,
and for all his focus on the practical,
Tozzoli could not help
being impressed.

The buildings themselves:
two tall but slender towers,
positioned at
a diagonal.
“Two just seemed right,
in terms of distribution
of mass, in terms of
elegance, in terms of
But Tozzoli growled—
the towers would contain
eight million feet,
two million short. “Yama,
I have to tell you,” he said,
“Kennedy is going to put a man
on the moon. You’re going to figure out
a way to build me the tallest buildings
in the world.”

The architect had to contend
with constant second-guessing.
“He would suffer and he would burn.”
The demands would wound his pride
so deeply it affected his fragile health.
But Tozzoli had his architect
pegged correctly; Yamasaki
was not going to question.

____Business people from around the country ___and around the world
 ___“What’s a trade center,
 ___and if it’s good for New York,
 ___why shouldn’t it be good
 ___in other cities?”
 ___Once retired, Mr. Tozzoli set out
 ___to institutionalize the answers,
 ___creating the World Trade Centers
 ___a nonprofit that helps businesses
 ___create their own trade centers,
 ___across the country
____and overseas.

The towers were not only big;
they were unmistakable.
One hundred ten stories
into the sky, Yamasaki and Tozzoli now
had to figure out how
to build two towers that wouldn’t crumble
under their weight.
The man charged with designing:
Leslie Robertson,
intense, doe-eyed,
a hotshot rising star.
“We were younger,” he said, “we were not burdened”
with all the baggage of buildings of the past.

Robertson chose the most extreme
way out, a leap
into lightness.
Yamasaki’s steel
pinstripe facade,
columns spaced narrowly because
he had a fear of heights,
were put to work in Robertson’s design.
The key: using those columns
to carry almost half the building’s weight.
Stiffening them against the wind
were Robertson’s solution of wide steel plates,
spandrels. The floors, the feathery branches
for these exotic steel trees,
were weblike networks of thin
steel bars.
They chose not to use thick masonry
or cement for the stairways,
but light sheets
of gypsum.
The skeletons let the buildings sway
like the biggest, leafiest trees.

Robertson still had one more
calculation: the impact
from a Boeing 707.
Critics charged that the towers
would represent a greater risk
of collision.
They ran an ad with
a commercial airliner
about to ram the towers.
So Robertson chose the largest jetliner,
assumed a plane lost in fog,
searching for an airport at low speed and concluded
the towers would remain.
How he performed the calculation
is apparently
lost. Several engineers have no
recollection, and no one thought
of the fires that would inevitably break out.

For fireproofing, a lightweight,
low-cost material
called mineral wool was sprayed.
It had problems staying attached.
Rain would often
wash it off, it would flake
off of steel that was rusty.
The contractor was connected to the Mafia.
John Gotti was later caught on tape
explaining that the company’s
president had to die, for the sin of disrespect.
His body was found
riddled with bullets
in the basement of the trade center.

Decades later, engineer
Frank Lombardi
discovered the fireproofing
was only half as thick
as it should have been. His best guess
is that the faulty calculations were done by someone
who reported directly to Tozzoli.
He does not know for sure.

___Mr. Tozzoli came to see world trade
___as not only a producer
___of money and jobs,
___but also as a promoter
___of international peace.
___This connection reached a pinnacle
___last year when he was nominated
___for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A midnight blaze in February
1975, set by a custodian
turned arsonist, should have merely been
a nuisance.
It started in the north tower,
eleventh floor, and spread
up and down six others.
TheTowering Inferno came out
just as fear was escalating.
The possibility of a disaster
was  “a clear and potential danger.”

But somehow a turnaround took place.
It is hard to pinpoint
the moment the most outsize giant
in a city of superlatives
began to seem more human in its scale.
Philippe Petit helped when he proved
to the world a man in black tights
could stand taller than the towers.
Owen Quinn parachuted
from the north tower, George Willig
pulled himself up
the south tower’s face, and when
the observation deck opened,
access to the sky
the towers’ haughty air.
Finally, the financial success,
the complex’s rise as a center of commerce,
the blooming of Battery Park,
the flourishing of TriBeCa,
brought it respect worldwide.

Terror would not come until
Frank Lombardi was in an elevator
as black soot seeped in. The lights went out,
thousands had to feel their way
down stairwells, choking in total darkness.
The towers had become a symbol, they had become
a terrorist target.
Lombardi tried to fix the problem
with the fireproofing,
though in private he worried.
“After ’93, I knew, somehow
they were going to come back.”
___This year, Guy Tozzoli has
___been nominated
___for the Nobel Peace Prize again,
___with testimonials compiled
___in a little book
___put out by the World Trade Centers
___Its title is Reaching for Butterflies.

On that morning of soft breezes,
of flawless skies, a plane banked
and flashed in the sun.
In the instant before it rammed the upper reaches
of the north tower, it bore an eerie resemblance
to that long-ago newspaper ad:
the direction, the location of impact.
But the reality was far more terrifying.

The second jet accelerated northward,
shot past the Statue of Liberty
and the Battery, and at the last instant,
canted up
toward the south tower.
The plane simply entered the building,
slicing the south face like
a machete
hacking palm fronds.

Resistance was so slight, the plane did not explode.
It scooped up furniture, carpeting,
computers, combustible office contents,
shoveled it all toward the northeast corner.
At some point the fuel ignited.
Fireballs blew out of the north,
south, and east.
The rest of the fuel splashed
across floors and floors,
setting fires, spewing down
elevator shafts,
dribbling across
the facades.
The impact knocked loose
the flimsy fireproofing,
so the fires were licking naked steel.

The stairwells were knocked out.
In the north
tower, all three were severed,
in the south
tower, two.
Running within them
were pipes carrying water
for sprinklers and hoses. Those pipes
were cut.
The towers rocked back and forth
a half dozen times,
perhaps a few feet
each way at the top,
jamming doors to conference rooms,
jamming doors to elevators,
jamming doors to stairways,
and ripping up
the gypsum
around the

In his office in the north tower,
seventy-second floor,
Lombardi felt the room jerk
to and fro. He saw
the bottom of a fireball.
He heard people screaming, he
hustled down a stairway and as
he did, the fires
began to spread.
Two thousand degrees,
the power output
of a nuclear plant.

The trusses expanded, began to
and sag,
tugged inward, and
Floors began to slip away
and fall one upon the other.
The exterior columns had nothing to keep them.
They snapped,
by one,
the entire top of the building tipped,
like a tree leaning,
began to fall.
The force crushed the tower, ripping apart,
at one hundred twenty miles per hour.
The other tower followed
soon after.

Robertson often stammered into silence
when trying to explain his feelings.
“Had it been more stalwart, surely,
one hundred,
one thousand people
might have gotten out.”
In other conversations,
he became resolute.
“Maybe it was as good as anyone
would have made it,
or maybe it was better.
But even so…”

Something drastic was happening,
but it was almost like a dream.
When the smoke thinned, the sky
had been invested
with a horrible meaning.
History had been undone.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. restoressp permalink
    September 24, 2011 1:24 pm

    Interesting… I didn’t think of the floors collapsing inward before, although I suppose it should have been obvious. How terrifying it must have been.

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