homepage logo

Poetic License: The Vacancies

By Staff | Sep 12, 2011

I stand at Ground Zero

staring up at the vacancies,

trying to see myself

and the others inside of them,

the way we once were

the other 9/11 in ’95:

Garry and Vishy,

pushing wood

for the world chess championship

on the 107th floor;

my daughter Allegra

on the 88th floor working

one summer for that Japanese firm;

Carmen, my distant cousin,

head of the State Office

of Bilingual Education

on the 51st beseeching me

and the other advocates

to continue the struggle;

the monthly meetings on the 50th

with the assistant commissioners

and my fellow superintendents

for whom struggle was a dirty word;

staring across

at the lowly third floor

to where I sat after retirement

with all the shapers and biggies

in those power breakfasts

and supplied them with insider info

on the school system until 9:00 A.M.

when they would all go off

like clockwork to make the money

and decisions that would keep

our country great and going

while I stayed to finish my coffee

and pride myself

on still being a player;

then looking up again

for that space of 71st floor

where the elevator

suspended me for half an hour

during a fire drill

while on my way up

to catch the 14th game

between Garry and Vishy

and I mumbled,

as I always did during drills,

“Thank God, this wasn’t for real,”

then reached the 107th to find

Vishy’s king already toppled.

Now I crane and strain

to relocate and pinpoint

those places and people

in the loneliness

of gray disconsolate sky,

searching the dust

below clouds

formed from the disaster

for where they once might have been

and hoping to recapture

what I once thought they all were,

until in the haunted stretch of space

the towers suddenly appear

to remind me that I always hated them

because they were never “real New York

like Empire State and Chrysler,”

and that when they fell

no one I loved or knew

fell with them

and that what I really feel now

is not compassion, sorrow or remorse

but the ingratitude and hypocrisy

of survival.