September 12, 2001 – The Day After
I want to wake up
The sun bright
Dancing shining beams
Upon a morning
Of yesterday’s tragedy
Absent the smell of flesh
No quilt of destruction
From soft ash and pulverized bone
Blanketing humanities’ horizon.
I wrote the above poem the day following September 11 and the attacks that began this decade of war and fear. The day before I had been awoken by the phone ringing approximately 6:40 in the morning on the west coast. “Turn on the TV” was all my friend could say. Tuning in, I see jet planes crashing into skyscrapers and shots of the Pentagon burning. I’m asked, “What does it mean?” I reply I don’t know. I watch the news a while, then turn off my TV. I drag out my gear and inventory my go to war kit. I call my career manager at the Army Reserve Personnel Center and volunteer. That day I’m assigned to 16th Military Police Brigade, an active duty unit, as a Reserve Individual Augmentee. I wait for activation orders. I put my uniform on and drive the 25 miles to Camp Parks, the local Army Reserve Training Base to see if I can assist in anyway. The flag remains at full mast. There is no guard at the gate. The force protection signs still read Alpha – no threat. There is nothing for me to do, I go home. Count my gear and repack again. A few weeks later, I am recalled to active duty and join with 49 other reserve Military Police and Military Intelligence officers and NCOs assigned to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). I lead one of several Infrastructure Security Teams over the next 6 months that assess security at economically vital locks and dams in the homeland. This is the first of three mobilizations post 9/11. Those six months I traveled by air a number of times. Each time, I wore a rugby jersey that recalled the leadership and sacrifice of ruggers Jeremy Glick and Mark Bingham, with Tom Burnett, to have led the counterattack on Flight 93, preventing the plane from reaching its target, possibly the White House.
The above day after poem has a tone of helplessness. There is a desire for hope that has been lost and is mourned, driven by confusion of the day before’s events. The poem as well contains prescience of a future colored with fear, loss and violence. The poem was written in a group of other writers, gathering for our scheduled Tuesday afternoon fiction writing class led by author Mary Webb. A semblance of normality, we’d come together according to our ordinary schedule on what clearly was not an ordinary day.
Ten years have passed and as a nation we have reclaimed a sense of normality though we have lost some of our comfort. Travel is no longer any may never again be the easy, comfortable process it once was in terms of security. We remain at war, though for 99% of the population, there is no sacrifice real or emotional as still less than 1% of the nation serves and economically we have not responded as all previous wars have called us to with shared sacrifice and contribution.
The blanket of destruction has been transformed into memorials and memories. We are an impatient people, ready for the war and conflict and meager collective sacrifice, if any, to be over. Alas, our adversary is patient and will wait for us to weaken our resolve from fatigue and time weathered experience. The day before yesterday’s tragedy, will it ever be again our day after?