5 years ago

On this date in 2001 I woke up early to ride in a van from New Jersey to the Apollo Theater on 125th Street in New York. It was the release date of an album by Babyface and he was doing a showcase there. I was changing drumheads in the alley and one of the stagehands ran out of the load in door and was talking rapidly into a cell phone. It turned out his girlfriend had a job interview at the World Trade Center that morning. This is how I found out something was going on.

We were almost 10 miles from Ground Zero but as it was clear as a bell, the guys who climbed up to the theatre roof saw the second plane go in.

It took over a month for me to gather my words again.


What I Didn't See

And how it has rested on my mind now
For thirty days now
To be so close and what I didn't see
The compulsion to seek refuge
Paid for by someone else, complaining

When I could have had to leave it all behind
Escaped on foot in this year's shoes
Without injury or even a light dusting

Or bloody, not able to walk
Caked in concrete and burnt paper

Or dropped in a hole with countless others
Separated from self to the extreme

Just ten miles away and attached to it
By a small portable TV as if…
As if that could protect me from the proximity
Or the fear and disbelief.

I tried to work through it and simply
Became unable to complete thoughts
Or see the importance in what I was doing…
It goes back to what I didn't see
Head down, following orders,
Not about to abandon my post, my riser
The day was the first time I had ever stepped foot
on 126th St. in Harlem, first time at the Apollo Theater,
first time I was glad to let some of the stage hands go before
the job was done, first time that New York felt like an inescapable trap and
New Jersey could be the gateway
to the promised land…

You could look at any face, especially strangers
And know what they were thinking

I looked out on the empty school yard
Across the street, hearing the intercom blaring
East-West view, no clear shot of the south from the middle of the block
No children, no play, no fun or laughter…
Just an announcement letting people know
Where the children were
I couldn't see them
Or the billowing head of the fire
And we waited…
And I got out of the stationary van
And went to the corner
To buy some water for the ride ahead
In those hours New York has never been
So congenial
Sitting in traffic mere blocks from the one lane out, upper deck
Of the GWB
Hours in New York traffic with no horns!!!
The van overly full with people, luggage and fear
My bladder full, no room and no where to go
Two blocks in two hours and then it was closed again…

Going east to get west
A bit of Boston in the Bronx
Behind us, the clouds from the fires
And still it's about what we didn't see
Fifteen, twenty miles away, still not far enough
The outrageousness of New York being closed!
The traffic backed up for miles and miles
Fire trucks still rolling towards the bridges
Let them through, let them through
People walking up and down the Cross Bronx at rush hour
Talking, no where to go, no way in or out…

The van picking up speed, as if it were trying
To leave earth's orbit or at least New York's
Finally upon the Tappan Zee, before Sundown
The monstrous plumes visible all the way
Down the river nearly thirty miles away
And it was still about what we didn't see

The other fires in my life, the forests of the west.
Malibu, T.O. or rural Portugal
Some fought, some forgotten
Racing helicopters in a tour bus on Interstate 5,
Dropping water along the fireline
Or the surreal feeling of waking from
A pizza oven sized bunk on an English bus
With the smell of burnt wood in my nose
To pry the curtain open and find the landscape
Smoldering, forests, businesses, no one there
The roads blocked by a farmers tractors,
Another political fire…
Here is the story of a person, a people
With control issues, never stopped by poverty
Or politics or religion or race
The lack of money, an illusion created
By how well we have it
Realizing that I currently make 200 times more a week
Than a large part of the world
And feeling as if I don't have the freedom
Financially to do what's next

This is about control and what I felt that day
It was the illusion of control stripped away
The illusion of freakishly blessed safety collapsed
That we can be touched

It's still about what I didn't see
I will always struggle to describe the weight of the air
In Manhattan that day
I won't get dramatic about psychic cries
Or anything else poetic that I didn't actually experience
But I did feel
-An unending sense of disbelief
married to the second shoe drop of “What's next?”
-A complete misplacement of the tools of coping
and understanding
-and a ball kicking reminder that the vaccination of being
a white middle class US citizen from the horrors of
life is a hoax.

What I did see was
Another day;
And my family and friends.
In time, hope and courage
A new perspective and the blessings
Of a loving God.