A Personal Memory of 9/11

Seidenberg professor Anthony J. Pupello shares his poetic account of his experience as a New Yorker during the attacks of 9/11. The piece, written in the haibun style, was composed in December 2001 and published by RawNerVZ, a cutting-edge journal for modern American haiku.

Anthony J. Pupello

We grew up on lower Manhattan. To us, the city was not a destination, not a Camelot of glittering lights nor a Babel of cold granite indifference. It was, simply, home. It was where we lived and worked and played.

But when the towers first went up, we were just like tourists–the naive invaders we alternately despised and pitied, as they gawked about this building or that neighborhood or this restaurant, all things we took for granted–in our own homes. Nothing was as tall as these buildings. Nothing. And the closer you got, the more you had to crane your neck to see the tops. It was like nothing any of us had ever experienced before. Like the most dumbstruck tourist, we were utterly in awe of what stood before us. And, almost thirty years later, standing beside the towers and tilting your head back as far as it would go just to see their tops, was still a kick. Just like the first time.

Back then we would marvel at their height, at their sheer physical presence. Kids, we would speculate in our comic book mentalities, “If they ever fell, which way would they fall? And how far? How far? Man, if they ever fell, they’d just reach out and touch the rivers in three directions. And get pretty far uptown in the fourth.”

On September 11 when the first World Trade Center tower fell, some of us didn’t know it was the tower collapsing. On a beautifully crisp day in the middle of early fall–truly a “picture-perfect” day, in fact–a day of unreal happenings and unimagined horror, some of us close by thought yet another epithet was being hurled our way–we thought a bomb had just gone off. And as the dense wall of Armageddon filled the narrow downtown streets, the dense wall of terror we later learned was smoke, debris and human ash, we ran. We ran as fast as any of us could towards the open river.

Thousands of lives were lost that day.

As horrible as the day was, I can only think how much worse it would have been if the towers had toppled over. If, on a day of the unreal becoming real, adolescent musings also became real. And I thank the creators, whoever designed these buildings, that they did not topple. As the men and women who risked their lives rushing in to save others when terror struck, the towers stood tall after they were hit, they stood firm. And when it came their time, they bowed out gracefully.

road-runner cartoon

that trailing cloud of smoke

so harmless