It is now a regular occurrence in our land, the tribute to 9/11. The newspapers are starting to fade in their coverage, the TeeVee does not run up the flag quite so much, the ceremonies at the fire houses are now just a little more a regular tradition as other tributes have become, I passed several on my way to work and the many others on the sidewalk did not stop, look, or sign walls or cards outside has they had a number of years before. This may be the passage of time, and that it heals all as they say, perhaps because Father Time levels all, and we either die or those parts of memory in our brain are reused to remember more recent things, like what brand of food the dog likes, or where put our keys this time, or the lyrics of the song of the summer, whatever one that may be. We don’t celebrate Armistice Day, Agincourt, Dien Bien Phu, King Philp’s War, or any number of other trials and conflicts with the same gusto as those years closer to the events, or those people directly impacted by said events. If you avoided Solders Homes after The War, that event seemed over too. And so, while there is the drum of “never forget,” there is also that native wind that blows across the ages and erodes all monuments from sphinx to Mother Russia, from Fountain of the Martyrs to Grant’s Tomb. The road to Appomattox is now dotted with Pit Stops and Kwik Gas stations where foreign men with dots on their heads froth your turbo drinkie and shopping strips where oily-pimple-faced teens heat up greasy hot pockets overlooking the holy battleground, Gettysburg. Even FDR’s hallowed home has a drive in, a hotel, and a bar across the street and a car wash next door. Our collective memory allow for those dead to then bury the dead, perhaps stopping along the way to charge admission to certain spectacles and of course, all exiting through the gift shop.
At this time we can still pause and reflect. On what our nation went through. On that some of us died, others mourn, and many still have some modicum of trauma from watching an event like any other they had seen and altogether wince the night away. We can also reflect on the constant state of war we have assumed, that we accept soldiers can return missing limbs and faculties and believe they will live normally. Subtle war we wage, since so that few of us are enlisted that we cannot know the true cost on spirit and body. I know but a handful of vets from this war. Maybe I met only the edges of the great mass of returned soldiers. The few I met were broken people. Driven to the armed forces by economics, and not realizing the stability that service was to provide. One vet we called “Dude” (I lived with him for months but we never bothered to learn his name) had run from missile strikes, taken fire, ducked and covered many times. He would jump at loud noises. Go off screaming at any provocation, and spend his hours smoking bales of pot delivered by UPS according to his prescription. Unlike Dude, many have returned to daily life none the worse. Many of us have continued none the worse for wear – except for our growing list of First World Problems. We still remember where we were and how long since then we have marched, helplessly watching our nation engage in phantom enemies, start illegal conflicts, ignore powerful enemies to focus on sporadic and sophomoric ventures, and to slowly use said assumed enemies of the state to turn away our hard-won rights, to chip away at our Constitution, and to cast aside the warnings given by so many of those Dead White Men, that tyranny can come at any time, and bearing the mantel of safety, the blanket of security, and crochet shawl of comfort.
Maybe I have told this story before. Perhaps I retell it to myself every year since to myself or others. Perhaps the facts grow ever more resplendent and succulent in literary detail and flourish as the actual memory of events fades to a shadow of gray in my mind. So many years ago, I was just returned from Russia. About two or three days before 9/11. I had been over there a month. Traveled to the south, flown up to St. Petersburg, and there met my girlfriend, a poet of some note who originally hailed from Ohio but had taken up residence in dark and mysterious Brooklyn and there I met her and we fell together and in some time I figured that Russia was a good a place as any to propose and marry, since at the time it was still the Wild Wild East and who knows what happened where it happened and when and if at that time. So, on an island just outside of Petersburg, one that was an open-air museum filled with wondrous wooden structures, churches from a wooden science fiction, houses from story books, barns and shacks with that peculiar mix of charm, fearful fantasy, and rustic rudeness that had always fascinated me. I met a priest of the Orthodox faith who had studied close to where I had attend a brief exploration of the Roman Priesthood on a weekend trip so many years before. He had been in our nation during SOVIET times and he was perhaps about my age, but had returned to the Heimat in order to restore the faith with the fall of the communist government. We had in some way, married, on that island, I still remember enjoying the bottle of wine on the bank of the lake, the branches of willow bending down and the blowing of the grass as if in indeed in that small Russian village hauled from all points marked and measured by Moscow by Glorious Soviet Comrades Storming to meat their labour goals and Five Year Plans, we had indeed been transported to the lands of Andrei Rublev. It was rather romantic, except that I remember I did not enjoy my time with her in Prague quite as much as two young creatives under those circumstances should have – since she spent half the time crying. Being a poet, that was excusable if not understandable. Without spelunking into that dark cave of memory, the important part is that we arrived back to the United States of America, and there was a strange pall over the lines of those returning. We were accustomed to the “welcome home” from the customs officer and a relief at seeing the Old Glory since while we ran away to several countries, they were always in many ways a pain in the ass and it was good to return to a nation of laws and civil society.
My wife and I were bed planning the announcement and the details of our nuptials when there was a knock on the door. It was one of my room mates – I still lived in a loft. “A plane has flown into one of the towers” he informed us. Our little lives and details became ever smaller that day. Mere specs already, we shrunk back to atomic particulates – Drs. Zhivagos perhaps, minus Laura’s Song?
We wandered out on to our tar beach, more emerged from their rooms, and we gathered there to watch history unfold. It was, our Burning of the Reichstag after all. We would only then know years of war. Years of growing income inequality. Growing internal policing. The end of “welcome home” from the officers. Suspicions and mal intent. Cameras emerged. An economy of war and security emerged and few raised a voice of concern. And now, it is indeed far too late in the day to intend to now eat right, drink less, sleep more, and not expose ourselves to radiation since the cancer has already taken hold.
I flew on the 11th. That sacred day. On American Airlines no less. There were the familiar security. Guards. Checkers. All manner of machines. Think of the systems. The cost. The industry that we have grown in order to replace all those things we made with the act of watching one another. This is in addition to the wars that are “winding down.” I am not sure what “winding down” means to those we drone. I am not completely satisfied that I can wrap my mind around what this winding down looks like when soldiers continue to sacrifice their lives, their bodies, their minds to fighting. Killing or being killed. This is a cost, too. We do not see it, but we continue to remove our shoes. Continue to have to buy small “travel sized” packages of the usual products we used to just buy, use, and toss in the bag when we went out and about.
I removed my shoes. My belt. I wondered why I didn’t just wear a robe and flip flops to the airport. I am used to this now. Like the ceremony on every TeeVee, it is routine.
“GOD BLESS OUR SOLDIERS” “REMEMBER THE VICTIMS OF 9/11” the digital light up signs flashed. Everyone had a flag out, yet, it didn’t look like the Old Glory as I remembered. It was of the same colour, the same cloth, made in China like the rest of them, but this flag does not look the same to me, and I can only wonder as to the reasons and, as the kids say in text abbreviations, shake my head. I believe we were attacked. I believe we had to do something about it. However, this decade and more has eroded all my trust in the Powers That Be and I cannot believe that those leaders or our current regime has made, makes, or will make the right decision. The current regime talks about “exceptionalism” however, I think we lost that mantel some time ago. That city on the hill, sends drones across the ocean to thin our your goat herds. It is indeed telling that our Nation has slipped, and I fear it cannot regain its place. Not economically, but what is it that China and Russia hide our political dissident whistle blower? What is it that Russia (the country of Stalin’s Five Year “Everybody Dies” plan – apologies to The Onion) is makins sense while our own government speaks as if we are still the police of the world, which, considering they may be getting board in watching us, wiretapping our communications, and monitoring our internal “chatter” for wreckers, bourgious reactionaries, and twerkers intent on overthrowing the corporations, the government, or which ever comes first.
This September 11, I woke up to the usual news. The view of a steamy and muggy September day unlike the clear day so long ago. I am no longer with that wife. At that loft. That person I once was. But then, neither is anyone else in this country.
We are today listened to by a growing number of charlatans that have sought to play on our fears. To make their way to power on our uncertainty. Who take our sorrow and are using it to confound the democratic process as they have burrowed into every aspect of our lives – political, economic, and social – to plant bugs and devise mechanisms of control. We are fast approaching a new Victorian Age of proper small talk and where employers can extend their watch well beyond the hours of the work-a-day world and into our homes, bedrooms, and minds. We are a world where we can say “Jesus Fucking Christ” (I encourage people to also say “Muhammad Fucking Profit – Blessed be His Name” and Buddha Fucking Seven Fold Path” just to be multi-cultural and ecumenical) but we cannot say “Down With Walmart” or “Fuck Monsanto” without being labeled a “Commie” and placed on a watch list. How telling it is that so many churches are becoming condos. Corporations are indeed our new religion and government is there but to enforce devotion.
September 11th of this Year of Our Lord has ended. Except for those chairs at those tables that sit empty due to that day or the ensuing wars, we have all returned to forgetting. That extra buzz in the wire? That’s just Bill from Information Retrieval listening in. A small price of liberty for security and we can also forget about that, or like repressive regimes the world over, someone will come to your door, and you will be forgotten too.
Je me souviens