Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Adam Zagajewski, "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" from Without End: New and Selected Poems, 2002.
This morning I woke up slowly, savoring the sounds of the whirring fan above and the kids on their way to school on the street below. Kevin being away for the weekend and a rainy evening last night meant I could finally sleep without the constant hum of our air conditioner taking up the small window in our bedroom.
A cool breeze floated through the room and I lay there listening to the familiar cadences of Morning Edition. I considered a run but decided instead to stay put, the cat cuddled next to my feet. I felt a sense of wonder at how quickly 14 years go by. I can't believe that it's been so long; in some ways, it feels just like yesterday.
Snippets of memory: fifth day of freshman year of high school, clear blue skies, sun shining. Mr. Castle bumbles an announcement that something has happened in New York, that we had to go home. Glued to the television, mouths agape, transfixed. Classmates still relative strangers, but some with fathers working in New York. Being sent home early, opening the front door to see Mum crying on the couch. Family back home hearing "Pennsylvania" on the news and panicking. No cellphone service, no school, just those photos and videos playing over and over again. The memorial services, the stunned silences, the tears.
Ten years later when I moved to Brooklyn. my running route took me through Brooklyn Bridge Park and up along the Promenade, parts of the borough that lie closest to the Financial District. I remember seeing a memorial plaque along the wrought iron fence of the Promenade for the first time and realizing, "Oh yeah, I guess the twin towers would have been right there." That's the first time I saw that empty space on the skyline as empty, as a hole. My mind drifted back to a trip to New York City, the "Big Apple", when my Nana was still alive and able to visit. Mum took a photo of Nana and me standing together on the ferry. We only noticed later that the twin towers loomed in the background. That photo was one of the first things I saw every time I walked into her house. Photo from the ferry, frantic phone calls on that day, the hole in the sky. The passage of time is a strange thing.
This morning, I stopped in at my favorite coffee shop before getting on the bus and bought a latte. It felt like a celebratory gesture on this first cool, blue-sky day of September. On the subway at Times Square, the train was held in the station as a group of firefighters boarded the car, looking regal and handsome in their shiny polished black shoes, white hats, badges of honor on their sleeves. A lump rose in my throat. I stepped out of the train at 72nd Street onto Broadway, yellow cabs whizzing by, latte cool now in my hand, sky so clear and blue overhead. I live here now. Fourteen years earlier and my day would have been so different. I felt grateful at that moment; first for the coffee in my cup and the cool breeze, and then for the the resilience of this city and its people, for the memory of that day and the fragility of the human experience, and for the opportunity to call this place home.
New York, I love you.