The Towers
(Elegy for a friggin’ building....):

There were once two tall towers.

They were not a metaphor for anything else, once:
not ‘America,’ not ‘wealth,’ not ‘disaster,’ not ‘war’.

They were never on a bumper sticker.

But they were tall, so tall—so unimaginably tall—that tourists,
maps in hand, would stop underneath them
and ask you “where are the towers?”
(you would simply point up– and up– and watch their faces....)

And when you were on top of them, on the roof in the wind,
on top of the world, you would have no fear of heights
because the streets below simply didn’t look real.

Two tall towers, once full of people.

They were pretty towers in a shiny, sparkling way:
gothic arches of shiny metal
tapering to straight parallel lines
that pretended to meet impossibly high above.

The sunlight changed the towers constantly, sometimes to mellow colors,
sometimes to fierce reds and orange, and in the sunset they’d turn golden.

Two silver firs once stood on a ridge, landmarks that could be seen for miles.

For fifty miles; for thirty years, they were always there. Two young towers. Always there;
and now, burned and collapsed— gone.

And more than 3,000 people dead.

And the greeting on the street has changed from “howya doin?” to “who didja lose?”

And her song of sorrow never ends.

No more taking the PATH from Newark or Jersey City, no more big dinosaur screech
as the train curved into the Trade Center...
no more niagara human waterfall descending the huge banks of escalators.

And more than 3,000 people dead.

No more mall to wait in, to shop in:
Duane Reade, Tourneau, Lecter’s, Sbarros, newstands, funky shops.
No more observatory, no more roof to stand on—above the cares of the world—,
no more walk to the subways—all those mosaic eyes tiled into the walls,
and the new mosaic of the world at Park Place.

And her song of sorrow never ends.

And the Wintergarden—how could anyone save the palm trees when the glass
fell shattered and the debris and dust and grime and grim chill of fall
flowed in from the Hudson?

No more Orchid show.

And where is the Riverwalk? Are Whitman’s words still wrought into that railing?

And more than 3,000 people dead.

And the Calder sculpture on the bridge? Did it gallop across to safety?
And the big green Miro? Did it slither away?

The globe and fountain in Tobin plaza– place of Mama Donna’s pagan rituals:
(360 or so office workers balancing eggs on the equinox;
songs and solstice watching;
hundreds of people chanting and drumming for peace).

And her song of sorrow never ends.

Norma’s souvenirs from the bombing, in 1993:
a bum knee from falling down pitch-black and smoky stairs
and a mug that says “Welcome Back to the World Trade Center.”

Norma and Diane on the 64th floor, in 1993, wondering:
how far would this tower fall if it were to fall...?
across the Hudson? to the Seaport? all the way to Brooklyn?

And more than 3,000 people dead.

You could see the towers from Joanne’s on Raritan Bay,
from Rts. 40 & 24 near Pattie and Erica’s in Morristown...
and you could smell the smoke in New Brunswick...

Did I need to see these trees chopped down to measure them? to find out what they’re worth?

And her song of sorrow never ends.

Landmarks of emptiness now, conspicuous in their absence;
you can see the buildings that were hidden behind them.
At night now, they are just a cloud of light:
the light from recovery and rescue crews
toiling endlessly.

The towers are like the Buddhas of Bamiyan,
whose absence speaks of more things than the eloquent statues ever could.

And more than 3,000 people dead.

And if a bell were to toll—
every twenty seconds, three times a minute, one-hundred-eighty times an hour—
after sixteen hours
it would still be tolling—

or would it break in half before it completed its solemn count?
or would the bellringer collapse into madness?

Her song of sorrow never ends.

More than 3,000 people dead.

What bird hatched from that black hole?
What fledgling first flew from that nest of twisted smoking steel?
What huge wings, working the upper air, could cast such huge shadows at our feet?

Her wings are the stinking smoke that blocks the sun, that cancels the stars,
that smell of burning wire and dust and melted plastic and steel,
that smell of more than 3,000 people dead.

Her song of sorrow never ends.

Edwin Chapman, 10-2-01