testament for one and two hands

for William Gillespie

Listen to it (MP3)

It was a phone call, 8:45 AM
mom waking me
I thought I'd been disconnected
late payments
hard times
mom coming through nevertheless.

"Turn on the news."

It was the impact
the smoke
the video run and re-run
planes hitting
planes missing, one
reputedly heading for Chicago
the crumbling and caving
the phone at last numb
in my house.

It was a call finally getting in at 3:00 PM
a friend
a reservation for the Laurie Anderson show
at the Park West
television still looping
and my friend
saying gently, clinically,
          "Turn off the TV.
          It's killing you."

It was Anderson dedicating her performance
          "to everyone who died today"
hearing O Superman's
          "They're American planes,
          made in America..."
hearing a too-obvious come-back from the house
          "Yeah, that won't mean the same no more."
realizing that even among
Anderson's audience
on such a day as this
whole chunks of America
still don't get it
and then walking home in the shadow
of skyscapers: our three dark centurions
standing forsaken
in a cool, clear Midwestern night.

It was an alley silenced of gang whistles.
It was a vacant street and lights on past midnight.
It was like blunt trauma, almost over before it began.
It wasthe first man on the moon and being on the wrong end of V-J Day.

It was hearing no jets all that night
except for one distant invisible fighter
even though I lived under
final approach
and listened for hours
for anything else.
They made the urban skies silent.

Let's give 'em a hand.

It became a waiting game
not knowing if an e-mail sent
to a friend in TriBeCa would
get answered.
It was
from a wired cabin near Peekskil.

It became a free dinner out one night
at a classy Loop bistro
thanks to a therapist friend
doing overtime sessions
and needing precious counsel for herself.

It became a new word
coined by comrades in Hamburg:
          "smiling, friendly, cheerful, kind,
          helpful, intelligent, charitable, selfless,
          neighborly, and willing to kill you"
typically applied to strangers
in one's midst.

It became musicas desaparecidas on the air.
It became condolences from friends and foes alike
who mourned with us
despite their departure from our cause.
It became, ironically, a realization
that we had no cause
which was why we may have been fit to be attacked.

It became an outlawing of irony
as sons of the wealthy houses of Bush and bin Laden
vowed their respective thin justices as vengeance
upon each other.

It became a further litany of sons
engineers, theologians, chemists
from even more wealthy houses
and a compulsory flag-waving belief
that their cause
fighting for the have-nots
was their whole point
and that we
loving the sinners, hating their sins
would buy this as the whole story.
It became irony that "holy" plus "war"
would equal "purification" in jihad.
It became a further irony defending our secularism
by following the President to a rally of our faiths.

It became too much bad poetry
by self-absorbed MCs and poetasters
for at least three months and
in many places
even to this day.
(You may be within earshot of it
even now.)

It became a galling October question
by one poetry MC
on mike
posed to me directly
          "How has September 11th changed you?"
and my galling response
          "Not at all.
          If you ever thought about the world
          from outside the States,
          you'd know why some people hate us in America.
          We never get out of ourselves.
          And we expect everybody else
          to get into us."
and that one day they did
with American planes.

Let's give 'em a hand.

And after that poetry open mike
I whistled O Superman
on the brisk walk home.

- Kurt Heintz, 7-8 September 2002


Writers on 11 September 2002:
Raymond Federman, Joe Futrelle, Kurt Heintz, Dirk Stratton, Chandra Vega