Translations

Window, Boston Public Library, 2009

Window, Boston Public Library, 2009

I’m sorry. I can’t really think straight because half of my mind is trying to concentrate on the other side of the world, to make some sense of what the hell is happening in Boston. These photos are from 2009, the first and only time I have been there.

I’m going to the library, on a spectacular fine September morning. It’s the second day of my new fellowship there, a period of support that will allow me to work on a book, granting me a sustained time to read and think and compose. I’m a little nervous about joining this new community in an unfamiliar setting, which is why I decide I will go ahead and take the train uptown to Forty-second Street, despite the smoking hole in the top of the north tower, that strange, distant shape visible from my intersection on Sixth Avenue. I call Paul on my cell phone. He’s home, drinking coffee in our new apartment on Sixteenth Street, getting ready for a faculty meeting at Sarah Lawrence, nervous about his new teaching job — we’re both a little wound up about starting something new. I say maybe he’d want to come down to the corner and see.

At the library, everyone’s gathered around a computer monitor, watching the BBC news, which has a live camera trained on the towers and is broadcasting the scene over the Web, and that’s when the second plane flies into the south tower, and everyone in the room understands that the world we inhabit has changed. On the screen, a pixilated image of the smoking columns of glass and steel. Word of other planes still in the air. Attacks in Washington, in L.A., what else is coming?

I try to call Paul, but the phone only buzzes; the entire city of New York is trying to make sure somebody’s okay, ask what on earth is happening, make a plan, figure out how to get home.

Apocalypse is narrated, continuously, seemingly endlessly; narration surrounds and encompasses, in layers of sound. People on cell phones — those that still work — are describing what they see, what’s in front of them, giving their version of the news. Television sets have been dragged to storefront windows, and the talking heads are delivering their reports while the images of the towers flicker and change. There’s a car pulled over by the curb, with its doors open and the radio on loud. People are talking to each other, reciting the versions they know.

– from Dog Years by Mark Doty

I know this isn’t September 11th, and nothing has been confirmed as an act of terrorism. But it is a terrible act. And it makes me reflect on how we respond to these moments: how we function in our day-to-day lives, only to find ourselves jolted by news from afar. And the ones whose emotive receptors are tuned hyper-sensitively, those ones like us, we may move back into the sphere of our lives but somehow the moment comes with us, hovering in the background, like a ghost, like a dark wind pressing through the gaps between our thoughts.

All I can think of is episodic:

The only time I’ve encountered busy phones is when I would dial into radio shows for competitions, or to dedicate a song to somebody. When I was 13, taking the option to play a song for the boy I liked during the 1am – 3am slot, just so that someone would bear witness to my heart over the radiowaves, so that someone would know that I loved him. He just got married this weekend, my boy, someone who has been my best friend and also a partial stranger. It hurt me to the core that I wasn’t there to see it, that I can’t share in it with him.

And the chaos of news, getting news in spurts: it reminds me of the London bombings in 2005, how much I wanted to be home there and comforting someone. I was frightened for my dad, but even more frightened that I didn’t know where he worked, what tube stop he might use, didn’t know if he would even take the tube, what he did on a day-to-day basis, didn’t know who he was. It hurt. That fear was worse.

St. Francis, Memorial Garden, Boston (2009)

St. Francis, Memorial Garden, Boston (2009)

The world is always a mix of our personals, of our contexts, and our threads. We can only understand the world through ourselves. We are our own translations.

To come too quickly to words is, ultimately, a form of arrogance; the easy poem suggests that loss is graspable, that the poet has ready command of speech in the face of anything. I have a hard enough time groping my way toward an acknowledgment of the fact of one death, much less 3,000. I believe that elegy needs to fumble its way toward what sense it can make, and that meaning wrested out of struggle—with the stubborn refusal of death to mean—is the only kind worth making.

– from Can Poetry Console a Grieving Public? by Mark Doty

Prayers, being sent up. Hearts, being held.

Goodnight, T.

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