9/11 in LA 

                A Poem in Five Voices

                By Devon O'Brien 

 

 

                          NARRATOR

     It reminded me of, "The War of the Worlds" -

     that old and infamous broadcast by Welles -

     what I heard when I turned the radio on

     around eight a.m., having left my son

     for the fourth day of the seventh grade at

     his school in Laurel Canyon.

 

     On our way there, streaming along the streets,

     I marveled at the lessened traffic,

     while my son sneaked a nap in the back.

     "What time is it?" He'd perked up when I turned

     into campus. "Twelve of eight" I answered.

     By then in New York there were no

     World Trade Towers, and in Virginia

     the Pentagon was in flames.

     But I didn't know then when I pulled in

     for the drive-in and the drop-off.

     I heard a girl say, "Mom, I wanna go ho-ome,"

     I attributed it to some teen-trouble

     I was not yet called upon to cope with.

     I said, "I love you." I said, "Good-bye."

     He said, "Yeah," and he waved and walked away.

     At the wheel, I tried to imagine why

     the girl who had just arrived

     wanted to go home.

 

     Then, switching my radio on, I heard

     the swirl of sirens, breathless, frantic talk

     about people whose skin was coming off,

     people on fire leaping from towers,

     city canyons overtaken with smoke,

     talk of how quickly the towers came down.

     What, I wondered, was it?  And, was it real?

 

     "I saw the planes go into the towers,"

     said George, calling us at home, from Mexico,

     where he - the world already was watching.

     "Well, you've seen it," he said. I hadn't. No.

     "No..." I said, "No, go on." He said. "Oh,

     that moment, like something in a movie: no. 

     It's not fair to compare this to a movie."

     But the horror, the terror of Tuesday

     were of such a scale and of such a scope

     only Hollywood had prepared us for. 

     I tuned in. I turned on. I spent the day -

     with CNN and the BBC,

     with MSNBC and NPR -

     collecting quotes and images.

     Here they are.

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "Our fellow citizens, and our freedom, came under attack today."

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "An American Airlines jet is lost, 150 people aboard".

 

                          VOICE THREE

     "The President cut short his trip to Sarasota, Florida

     He is on his way to Washington."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "How did the CIA not know about this?"  Commentators ask.

     "But, how many of these have we broken up-?" Others ask back.

 

                          NARRATOR

     There's a new thing: asymmetric warfare.

     It put the hole in the U.S.S. Cole and

     made the embassies in Africa explode.   

     Strategy, secrecy and precision.

     This is the day of extreme terrorism.

     The attacks get geometrically worse.

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "Twin Towers World Trade Center Collapse After Crash

     of Two Airlines."

    

                          VOICE ONE

     "Would you call this, "An act of war?"

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "United Airlines reports a plane missing. 110 people aboard."

 

                          NARRATOR

     "Three weeks ago in London..." Peter said

     on CNN, "There were warnings, whisperings of,

     '...a huge and unprecedented attack

     on the U.S.'" On us. Someone there said.

     "Osama bin Laden said with a smile,

     'The Victory of Yemen will continue.'"

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "How could this happen to the safest country on earth?"

 

                          VOICE THREE

     "Any country which shelters or harbors terrorists

     responsible for this attack, is functionally culpable of

     the events that took place today."

 

                          NARRATOR

     The man in charge of security at

     Logan Airport, fields questions from the press

     about Logan Airport.  It's not morning

     to him: it's midnight. He's grim at Logan. 

 

                          ALL VOICES

     "Is there another plane out there somewhere?"

  

                          NARRATOR

     He could not confirm.  He would not deny.

     I ask my husband to drive: get our child.

     I want him home with us.  I want him home. 

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "Nothing like this has happened in U.S. history."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "This has been compared to Pearl Harbor."

 

                          VOICE THREE

     "The President is in Louisiana."

       

                          NARRATOR

     While calm, shown over a video-phone,

     the man of The Taliban is shown live

     from far-off Afghanistan. Now he waits

     for translations before he can answer....

     He seems to be sitting.  He seems to sway.

     "bin Laden is incapable of this,"

     the man of The Taliban simply says.

     He shows neither shock, concern or surprise.

     In the metal rim of his glasses, there's

     a white light trapped. It slides to the left and gleams,

     it seems to scream - then glides to the right.

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "We need more human intelligence capabilities.  

      Intelligence that determines motivations before acts occur."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "I don't think our lifestyles are going to be the same for a long time."

 

                          VOICE THREE

     "The President is at a secure site in the Mid-West."

                     

                          NARRATOR

     When my son comes home, I get out ice cream.

     We are grave while the blender cuts and whirs.

     We are grave while he drinks a milkshake.

     We've never made a milkshake in the morning.

     A plane flies overhead, he looks alarmed.

     I smile. I say, "Everything is all right."

     I think of the mothers in London's Blitz;

     how did those mothers watch the children play

     ball or marbles while waiting for bombs?

     I say to my son, "On Pearl Harbor Day,

     your grandfather worked at The Chronicle

     in San Francisco, at the city desk.

     He wrote the lead for the paper that day."

     As my son sips, I can tell he's impressed.

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "Airline Crashes in Somerset, Pennsylvania." 

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "This is a fluid situation. It's changing all the time."

 

                          VOICE THREE

     "The U.S. is a unique power, a uniquely open country,   

      and we are uniquely vulnerable."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "And now the President will speak to us."

  

                          NARRATOR

     He walks into a room somewhere, maybe

     Louisiana, perhaps Nebraska.

     Only there's no audio -- the picture

     breaks up, looking like something by Hockney.

     In New York today the Twin Towers fell,

     in Virginia, the Pentagon's in flames.

     A plane that was bound for the Capitol

     came down in a field in Pennsylvania.

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "It is a day of unnatural visions."

 

                          NARRATOR

     The towers of steel, aluminum and glass

     converted in an instant into flames,

     a gas that pursued people down the streets

     crouching by cars, by curbs, wherever they could.

     It coated the living with dust, with ash.

     A video camera trembles records

     Frantic shadows pursued, hunted by smoke.

     The smoke is systematic, democratic.

     It skips no floors. While wordless, wondering,

     motionless and trembling and appalled

     spectators on a corner watch the smoke

     burst downwards floor by floor by floor by floor.

          

                          VOICE TWO

     "This is the sort of thing that makes us rethink

     everything."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "Can you describe what you saw there, Mr. Mayor?"

 

                          VOICE THREE/MAYOR

     "Most horrific scene I've seen in my life,"

  

                          NARRATOR

     Says Rudolph W. Guiuliani,

     the Mayor of New York. He went downtown

     when the first tower was hit by a plane

     He and his aids were trapped in a building

     nearby at 75 Barclay Street.

 

                          VOICE THREE/MAYOR

     "Our thoughts are first for the enormous loss of life -

      the loss of fire fighters and police officers alone...."

 

                          NARRATOR

     He stopped.  The Mayor of New York could not talk.

     Then, he started again....

 

                          VOICE THREE/MAYOR

     "And for the tragedy going on in lower Manhattan."

 

                          NARRATOR

     There are one hundred and seventy

     hospitals in New York.  All are in triage,

     ready for a steady stream of ambulances.

     The Red Cross will be setting up stations

     for blood donations. New York City is

     on heightened alert. New York City is

     secure.  Everything is safe right now in

     New York City.  New York City is closed.

     While at the site, they say, there's silence

     and there's shoes.

 

                          VOICE THREE/MAYOR

     "Everybody in their own way should say a prayer,"

 

                          NARRATOR

     Said the Mayor.

     The Mayor, the Governor and their men

     answer questions -

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "What is the composition of the smoke?"

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "What is the radius of the damage?"

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "How many casualties do you expect?" -

    

                          NARRATOR

     While these words are seen, they scroll on the  screen....

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "50,000 people worked in the World Trade Towers.

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "Each of the World Trade Towers has 104 floors.

     And 21,800 windows."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "The towers were built by the Port Authority

     of New Jersey and New York. 

     Tower One was completed in 1972."

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "Tower Two was completed in 1973."

 

                          VOICE THREE/MAYOR

     "The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear,"

 

                          NARRATOR

     Said the Mayor.

                    

                          VOICE TWO

    "53 injuries reported at The Pentagon

    after a plane hit the west side of the building."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "For security reasons, the Secret Service doesn't want

     the President in Washington."

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "How could this happen to the most secure of secure  buildings?"

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "No one can stop us our freedoms and our way of life."

 

                          NARRATOR

     The New York Primary is suspended.

     The ballparks are closed.  The U.N.'s empty.

     Trains New York bound are told to turn around.

     A sign on the drive nearby New York reads,

     "Serious Problems: Avoid New York."

     Congress is evacuated.  U.S.

     airspace is closed.  International flights

     are diverted to Canada.  All planes

     in the air are ordered: Land anywhere.                    

     Both Disneyland and Disneyworld are closed.

     And at The White House, there's nobody's home.

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "Yeah, we should retaliate, but who are we going to hit?

      Who are you going to go to war with-?  I mean, 

      We don't know who we're fighting."      

         

                          VOICE THREE

     "Get the President to The White House: send a message."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "Has anyone taken responsibility for this?"

 

                          NARRATOR

     There is a street in the Middle East where

     Palestinians cheer when they hear the news.

     They wave from their cars, honk and celebrate;

     an old woman does a dance, little boys

     wave little flags; children are given sweets. 

     When they hear, some men grin from ear to ear.

     "This is a sweet," says one "from Osama bin Laden."

 

                          VOICE ONE

     "We have a report that there are good indications

     that people associated with Osama bin Laden

     are responsible for the attacks."

 

                          NARRATOR

     It was a complex plan carried out by

     many, and at multiple airports.

     The terrorists took over the cockpits.

     Surely they knew what they were doing.

     They knew to fly a plane, to make it hit

     a target: a tower, the Pentagon.

     Surely they knew what they were doing;

     they chose planes for their flammability.

 

                          VOICE TWO

     "You think of the normal people in those planes -

     I'm sure there were teenagers, babies -

     that suffered tremendous terrorism.

     Those people knew that something horrible

     had come into their lives. And they knew it

     for a long time."

  

                          VOICE FOUR

     "Make no mistake, we will hunt down and punish those responsible."

 

                          NARRATOR

     The first plane penetrates the north tower

     at 8:48 a.m. in New York.

     In Los Angeles we were asleep then. 

     The second plane flies into the south tower

     at 9:03 a.m. in New York.

     In Los Angeles we were asleep then. 

     When the third plane hit the Pentagon in

     Virginia at 9:45 a.m.,

     I was awake and so was my son.

     He was in the bath. I was making bacon.

     As we sat down to eat the south tower

     came down in the street. The Pentagon fell   

     as I suggested jam. The fourth plane crashed

     when he said, "No." Then, we got up to go.

     Around the time that the north tower fell,

     I found my son in his room. It was dark.

     He was in a chair, doing something there.

     "You're going to be late," I said. "Hurry up."

     It fell when he snapped a school binder shut. 

     It all seemed the same the day the world changed.

 

                          VOICE FOUR

     "We will do what is necessary to protect Americans." 

 

                          NARRATOR

     During our breakfast, a fax had come in.

     I heard the ring, but I didn't heed it.

     I didn't read it. I thought, "It's just some

     cell-phone deal, some dot.com liquidation."

     Later, I saw it. I read it, it said,

     "Tragedy on the East Coast."

 

                          VOICE FOUR

"But make no mistake, we will show the world, we will pass this test...."

 

                          NARRATOR and ALL VOICES

     In New York today the Twin Towers fell;

     in Virginia, the Pentagon's in flames.

     A plane that was bound for the Capitol

     came down in a field in Pennsylvania....

 

                                      ****