Out of the Blue


All lost.

All lost in the dust.
Lost in the fall and the crush and the dark.
Now all coming back.


Up with the lark, downtown New York.
The sidewalks, the blocks.
Walk.  Don't walk.  Walk.  Don't Walk.

Breakfast to go:
an adrenalin shot
in a Styrofoam cup

Then plucked from the earth,
rocketed skyward,
a fifth a mile
in a minute, if that.
The body arrives
then the soul catches up.


That weird buzz
of being at work
in the hour before work.

All terminals dormant,
all networks idle.
Systems in sleep-mode,

all stations un-peopled.
I get here early
just to gawp from the window.

Is it shameless or brash to have reached top,
just me and America
ninety floors up?

Is it brazen to feel like a king, like a God,
to ge surfing the wave
of a power trip,

a fortune under each fingertip,
a billion a minute, a million a blink,
selling sand to the desert,

ice to the Arctic,
money to the rich.
The elation of trading in futures and risk.

Here I stand, a compass needle,
a sundial spindle
right at the pinnacle.

Under my feet
Manhattan's a simple bagatelle, a pinball table,
all lights and mirrors and whistles and bells.

The day begun.
The sun like a peach.
A peach of a sun.

And everything framed
by a seascape dotted with ferries and sails
and a blue sky zippered with vapour trails.

Beyond this window it's vast and it's sheer.
Exhilaration.  All breath.  All clear.


Arranged on the desk
among the rubber bands and bulldog clips:

here is a rock from Brighton beach,
here is a beer-mat, here is a leaf

of a oak, pressed and dried, papery thin.
Here is a Liquorice Allsorts tin.

A map of the  Underground pinned to the wall
The flag of St George.  A cricket ball.

Here is a 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.

Here is a picture in purple paint:
two powder-paint towers, heading for space,

plus rockets and stars and the Milky way,
plus helicopters and aeroplanes.

Jelly-copters and fairy-planes.
In a spidery hand, underneath it, it says,

"If I stand on my toes can you see me wave?"


The towers at one.
The silent prongs of a tuning fork,
testing the calm.

Then a shudder or bump.
A juddering thump or a thud.
I swear no more

than a thump or a thud
But a Pepsi Max jumps out of its cup.
and a filing cabinet spews its lunch.

And the water-cooler staggers then slumps.
Then a sonic boom and the screen goes blue.
Then a deep, ungodly dragon's roar.

In the lobby, the lift opens up,
and out of the door
the tongue of a dragon comes rolling out.

Then the door slides shut and the flames are gone.
Then ceiling tiles, all awry at once.
Then dust, a soft, white dust

snowing down from above.
We are ghostly at once.
See, there on the roof,

the cables, wires, pipes and ducts,
the veins and fibres and nerves and guts,
exposed and loose.

In their shafts, the lift-cars clang
and the cables are plucked,
a deep, sub-human, unaudible twang.

And a lurch.
A pitch.
A sway to the south.

I know for a fact these towers can stand
the shoulder-charge of a gale force wind
or the body-check of a hurricane.

But this is a punch, a hammer blow.
I sense it thundering underfoot,
a pulsing, burrowing, aftershock

down through the bone-work of girders and struts,
down into earth and rock.
Right to the root.

The horizon totters and lists.
The line of the land seems to teeter
on pins and stilts,

a perceptible tilt.
Then the world re-aligns, corrects itself.
Then hell lets loose.

And I knew we torn
I knew we were holed
because through that hole

a torrent of letters and memos and forms
now streams and storms
now flocks and shoals
now passes and pours
now tacks and jibes
now flashes and flares
now rushes and rides
now flaps and glides...

the centrefold of the New York Times
goes winging by

then a lamp
a coat
a screen
a chair

a youghurt pot
a yucca plant
a yellow cup
a Yankees cap

A shoe falls past, freeze-framed against the open sky.
I see raining flames.
I see hardware fly.


Millicent wants an answer now.
Anthony talks through a megaphone.
Mitch says it looks like one of those days.
Abdoul calls his mother at home.

Christopher weeps for his cat and his dog.
Monica raises her hand to her eye.
Lee goes by with his arm on fire.
Abigail opens a bottom drawer.

Raymond punches a hole in the wall.
Pedro loosens his collar and tie.
Ralph and Craig join an orderly queue.
Amy goes back to look for her purse.

Joseph presses his face to the glass.
Theresa refrains from raising her voice.
Abdoul tries his mother again.
Bill pulls a flashlight out of his case.

Tom replaces the top on a pen.
Peter hears voices behind the door
Abdoul tries his mother again.
Glen writes a note on a paper plane.

Gloria's plan is another dead-end.
Paul draws a scarf over Rosemary's face.
Arnold remembers the name of his wife.
Judy is looking for Kerry and Jack.

Edwardo lights a ciragette.
Dennis goes down on his hands and knees
Stephanie edges out onto the ledge.
Jeremy forces the door of the lift.

Dean gets married in less than a month.
Peter is struggling under the weight.
Sue won't leave without locking her desk.
Mike lifts a coat-stand over his head.

Elaine is making a call to a school.
Claude won't be needing this anymore.
Rosa and Bob never stood a chance.
Josh goes looking but doesn't come back.


Go up go down.  Sit right for now.  Or move.   Don't move.  It's all in hand.  Make a call on the phone.
Stay calm. Then shout.  Stay calm.  Then SHOUT.  Come back.  I think we should leave but not in
the lift.  This staircase closed.  This staiwell black.  Keep cool.   Keep your head.  For fuck's sake
man this telephone's dead.  Get low to the floor.  Who bolted this door?   Try the key, try the code.
Hit nine one one.  Come away from the glass.  Keep back from the heat.   Heat rises, right?  Go down.
Go south.  That exit locked.  That lobby blocked.  That connecting corridor clogged with stone.  The
lights go out.  Come on.  Go out.  A fire alarm drones.  Come away from the edge.  Hit nine one one.
Call home call home.  Come here and see, we made the news.  Try CNN.  Try ABC. They say it's a
plane.  So bung it with something to stop the smoke.  Or we choke.  Use a skirt, use a shirt  Rescue
services now on their way.  What with.  With what - with a magic carpet?  A thousand foot rope?
Stand back from the door.  They're saying it's war.  Don't break the glass - don't fan the flames.
Outside it's sheer.  A wing and a prayer.  Go up.  Go north.  Get out on the roof.  No way.  Call home.
Call home.  It's daddy, ask mummy to come to the phone.  Get mummy, tell mummy to come to the
phone.  Just DO AS YOU'RE TOLD.  this glass, like metal.  If we step out there...if  we stay in here.
This glass, like metal.  Just DO AS YOU'RE TOLD.  Get mummy, tell mummy to come to the phone.
It's daddy, ask mummy to come to the phone.  Call home.  Call home.  Get out on the roof.  Go north.
Go up. A wing and a prayer.  It's air.  Outside it's sheer.  Outside it's air.  Don't break the glass -don't
fan the flames.  They're saying it's war.  Stand back from the door.  What with?  With what - a magic
carpet?  A thousand foot rope.  Rescue services now on their way.  Use a skirt, use a shirt.  Or we
choke.  So bung it with something to stop the smoke.  They say it's a plane.   Try ABC.  Try CNN.
Come here and see, we made the news.  Call home call home.  Hit nine one one.   Come away from
the edge.  A fire alarm drones.  Go out.  Come on.  The lights go out.   That connecting corridor clogged
with stone.  That lobby blocked.  That exit locked.  Go south.  Go down.  Heat rises, right?  Keep back
from the heat.  Come away from the glass.  Hit nine one one.  Try the key, try the code.  Who bolted
this door?  Get low to the floor.  For fuck's sake man this telephone's dead.   Keep your head.  Keep
cool.  This stairwell black.  This staircase closed.  I think we should leave but not in the lift.  Come back.
Then SHOUT.  Stay calm.  Then shout.  Stay calm.  Make a call on the phone.  It's all in hand.  Don't
move.  Or move.  Sit tight for now.  Go up go down.  Sit tight for now.  Go up.  Go down.


Fire as a rumour at first.
Fire as a whisper of wolves,
massing and howling

beneath the floor,
clawing and scrabbling,
tongues of flame licking under the door.

And smoke like fear.
Smoke as a bear, immense and barrelling,
horribly near.

Then furious heat.
Every atom irate and alive with heat.

And air won't arrive.
Un-breathed, an ocean of sky
goes sailing past on the other side.

Now heat with its nails in your eye.
With its breath to your face.
With its hands in your hair,

its fist in your throat.
So the window shatters,
the glass goes through.

Crane into with void
Lean into the world.
It's not in my blood

to actually jump.
I don't have the juice.
But others can't hold.

So a body will fall.  And a body will fall.
And a body will fall.  And a body will fall.
And a body will drop

through the faraway hole
of vanishing point,
smaller then gone,

till the distant hit and the burst of dust.
The shock.  the stain
of fruit and stone.


I was fighting for breath.
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…
a river… 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,
the soldier-ants

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 cleared?
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:

concepts torpedoed
and theories trashed,

refuted schematics,
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.

Neither here
nor there

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:
eternity rings,

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.
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.

Simon Armitage


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