Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Everybody Falling

Six years after the fact (six being an uncomfortable anniversary number that's hard for many to feel solidly connected to), the images that still stay with me most viscerally—I had gotten home from the north shore of Lake Superior the night before, and turned on the TV that morning in time to catch the second plane hitting the second tower on live broadcast—is of the dots of people falling from the towers: those who had chosen to jump, to free-fall through the air, rather than be burned alive, or crushed when the towers came down, as they inevitably would. (Anyone with a modicum of physics and chemistry knowledge could have told you that jet fuel is an incendiary accelerant that would make an arsonist drool; I knew the towers were going to come down, because of the jet fuel accelerant, even while the shocked TV commentators were saying they wouldn't.)

The people who leapt clear of the buildings, to free-fall through the open air and die when they hit the ground: I've thought more than once that they made a choice. I wonder if some of them jumped out of panic; but I also wonder if some others knew that they were going to die, and decided to choose their own deaths rather than let someone else choose for them. Choose the manner and the means: jump, or burn. That took tremendous self-knowledge and courage, and I believe that at least some of those who jumped were capable of making such a choice. It was a day of astounding courage.

When I dream of that day, the elongated dots falling diagonally across the geometrically rigid faces of the buildings are the images I remember most poignantly.

Then, not much more than a year later, the Columbia space shuttle fireballed on reentry, due to an apparent heat-shield failure. I thought again of people falling from the sky, and of death by fire. I wrote this piece as a memorial for STS 107, the Columbia, but I realize now that it is pertinent today, as well, on this awkward anniversary. It's a lament, and a celebration, for everyone who has fallen, and for those who continue to fall.

Everybody Falling

Everybody falling
falling down

falling from the blue
falling too

sinking down
into the sea
into the ground

strange luck

Everybody falling
falling too

fall too far
fall too fast

sink into the sun
arms spread out
sink into the past

strange footprint

Everybody falling
rising up

rise again
rising into the blue

everybody falling, falling
rising too


(Saint Paul, MN, 2003)

(The musical setting can be listened to by clicking on the poem's title, or here.)

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Blogger Will said...

A haunting and beautiful memorium - words and music.

4:27 PM  

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