I was fighting for
I was pounding the glass
when a shape flew past
A snapshot only.
The shape of a cross, as it were.
Just a blur.
But detail. Fact.
An engine. A wing.
I sort of swayed, sort of thing,
sort of swooned, that fear
when something designed to be far
comes illogically near.
Then it banked. It scooped. It was tipping.
Not dipping away, but towards.
On the turn.
Then the groan and the strain
as it turned.
I see it now, over and over,
Frame by frame by frame.
Then everything burned.
And I thought how crazy is this
this can't be the case.
I actually thought there's got to be some mistake:
they'll wind back the film,
call back the plane,
they'll try this again.
The day will be fine,
put back as it was.
Because lightning never strikes once,
let alone twice,
and no two planes just happened to veer
through mechanical fault
or human error
one after the other.
It must be a mirage.
It must be mirror.
That thought didn't last.
That thought was a lie
which darkened and died the second it formed.
Then it dawned.
What else is a plane but a flying bomb.
A man with his arm in his hand, in a mess, mumbles "this is so wrong."
We are spinning a web.
We are knotting a net.
These are delicate threads.
These are desperate times.
We are throwing out lines
so subtle and slight
they are lighter than air.
We are spanning the sky
with wireless wires
too faint by far
for the naked eye,
untraceably thin, imperceptibly fine.
But they carry our breath.
We are making our calls.
They are tightropes, strung
from the end of the phone
to a place called home
so our words can escape,
our voices trapeze
for mile after mile
or in my case traverse
the width of the sea.
My beautiful wife,
sit down in the chair,
put the phone to your ear.
Let me say.
Let me hear.
We are spinning a web.
But such delicate threads,
the links so brittle,
too little, too late.
Not one can save us
or bear our weight.
Then enormity falls.
Then all sense fails.
The strings are cut
and the world goes slack.
The tower to the south,
holding on to the moon by its fingernails
now looses its fix
and drops from view.
The tower to the south
now looses heart,
now sieves itself through itself.
Just gives up the ghost.
All logic and fact on the slide.
Through a crack in the sky
for a second or so
and land on the other side.
Then the image lost
to uplift of ash and an inrush of dust.
Then the overwhelming urge to run.
The impulse to pump with the arms and fists,
sprint hell-for-leather up seventh or fifth, a wish
for the earth to be solid and not to give,
for concrete or tarmac under the feet,
to sprint for the light at the end of the street,
one last race, the utmost desire
to be downing litres of smokeless air
and to run and run and run and run,
and break the finish line, burst a lung.
I watch sirens and lights,
of vehicles wearing emergency red
all filing this way,
And the people
New Yorkers flowing away,
a biblical tide of humankind, going north, going safe,
the faces of women and men
looking up at the nightmare of where I am.
Looking back at the monstrous form I've become.
They turn and run.
And through the blitz of that awful snow,
the only colours:
mile beyond mile
of traffic lights changing. Stop. Wait. Go.
You have picked me out.
Through a distant shot of a building burning
you have noticed now
that a white cotton shirt is twirling, turning.
In fact I am waving, waving.
Small in the clouds, but waving, waving.
Does anyone see a
soul worth saving?
And when will you come?
Do you think you are watching, watching
a man shaking crumbs
or pegging out washing?
I am trying and trying.
The heat behind me is searing, searing,
but the white of surrender is not yet flying.
I am not at the point of launching, leaving.
A bird goes by.
The depth is appalling. Appalling
that others like me
should be wind-milling, wheeling, spiralling, falling.
Are your eyes believing,
Here in the gills
I am still breathing.
But tiring, tiring.
Sirens below me are wailing, firing.
My arm is numb and my nerves are sagging.
Do you see me, my love. I am flagging. Flagging.
What reveals itself once night has
What emerges by day,
what fragments, what findings,
what human remains?
The steaming mound like a single corpse:
stony tissue, skeletal steel,
and not matter alone
but ideas as well:
and theories trashed,
a carcass of zeroed numbers and graphs.
The gleaners arrive to pick and prise,
to rummage by any and every means:
claw and spike.
hook and crane,
bucket and spade on hands and knees.
Some use the phrase "a fruitless search,"
some fall and weep, some gag and wretch,
some report that death has the scent of a peach.
the will-o-the-wisp of a welder's torch,
two right-angled girders raised as a cross.
The numbers game.
The body count.
Then part of a body is stretchered out,
carried by bearers, clothed in a flag.
The rest is boated and trucked,
strewn in a field to be raked and forked,
to be sifted and bagged,
numbered and tagged.
What comes to light are the harder things:
necklaces, bracelets, identity cards,
belt-buckles, cufflinks, ear-rings, combs,
hair-slides, hip-flasks, running shoes,
Watches are found still keeping time -
the escapement sound, the pulse still alive
but others have locked at ten-twenty-eight.
Others like mine.
And here is a rock from Brighton beach,
here is a beer-mat, here is the leaf
of an oak, pressed and dried, papery thin.
Here is a Liquorice Allsorts tin.
The flag of St George.
A cricket ball.
Here is calendar, counting the days.
Here is a photograph snug in its frame,
this is my wife on our wedding day,
here is a twist of her English hair.
No ashes as such, but cinders and grains
are duly returned,
sieved and spooned and handed back
in a cherry-wood urn in a velvet bag.
All lost in the dust.
Lost in the fall and the crush and the dark.
Now all coming back.
Five years on, nothing in place:
the hole in the ground
still an open wound,
the gaps in the sky still empty space,
the scene of the crime still largely the same
but everything changed.
Five years on
what false alarm can be trusted again?
What case or bag can be left unclaimed?
What flight can be sure to steer its course?
What building can claim to own its form?
What column can vow to stand up straight?
What floor can agree to bear its weight?
What tower can vouch to retain its height?
What peace can be said to be water-tight?
What truth can be said to be bullet-proof?
Can anything swear to be built to last?
Can anything pledge to be hard and fast?
What system can promise to stay in place?
What structure can promise to hold its shape?
What future can promise to keep the faith?
Everything changed. Nothing is safe.