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twin death by patti smith 2001


awoke to the sound of a passenger plane singing its end. awoke to the sensation of spirits - a purgatory of souls ascending the billowing smoke and ash filling the sky at the base of my street.

they are gone. the twin posts that anchored our city. an hour before waved goodbye to my daughter heading for school. i sat on my stoop gazing at them sleepily, disinterested, then returned to my slumber, in the arms of my love.

awoke to the sound of f-15's and helicopters circling above, drawing me from bed into the street. the towers are gone and the skin of our sky is wounded.

they are gone. what form of intelligence has committed this deed? what portrait could i paint? what lines might i draw? from what human memory can i draw from? i can no longer picture them. on my wall are sheets of drawings, abstracting the cross and the motion of resurrection. remove them and set them away, taping up fresh sheets, returning to the street to think.

yellow streamers snake through the streets, wrapping my ankles. as i reach to free myself, i notice the light if different. they way it falls on the buildings and on the back of my hand. momentarily inspired, i pocket some streamers and head back.

taping the yellow strip across the white sheets of paper, i find i am unable to draw one line. it should be so simple, child's play to trace their dual silhouette. but i can't. i'm afraid that i won't do it right. i'm afraid that art is useless.

they are gone. and all those people. i keep sitting on my stoop looking towards the right, to where they were, thinking they will reappear. a dazed businessman impeccably dressed, save for the white dust covering his shoes, passes. he doesn't seem to know where he is going, but his shoes tell where he has been. i think of picasso and how he reacted to the bombing of guernica. how he translated his pain and horror into a monumental work that moves and teaches us to this day. i return to my wall.

if you look at the dust, one can see towers where there are no towers. like the amputee feeling the pain of phantom limbs.

i never really liked them. i protested their construction. i was empire loyal, resenting anything that might eclipse her. but through the years, i not only accepted, but also came to love them. it seemed wonderful because there were two.

awoke to the cries of "usa! usa!" nationalism is brewing. flags are flying. the sight of them fills me with conflict, for ours is a global concern. we are on human time. we are new york. a thoroughly human city. diversity is our pride. humanity is our duty - to offer one's hand, one's bread, one's prayer, and one's human love, with no distinction of faith, party, or nationality.

dawn has yet to break and i awoke to sirens and thunder and the rain against the skylight. volunteers' voices carry through the stage set of our streets. driven to be among them, i rise, dress quickly, gather up my required identification and enter into another world.

lines of emergency vehicles are exiting, moving south. irrationally attached to our checkpoint, now unmanned, i touch the discarded barricade, draped in rain-soaked steamers. the same yellow streamers that stretch across the white sheets adorning my wall. a face mask hangs on the edge of a long sawhorse that has restricted our street. the still life of the hour. lights cease flashing. the rain dissipates. houston street re-opens. the citizens reclaim sixth avenue.

only blocks away, workers mobilize, rescuers continue through the night. men cry out not to other men. i know nothing of the pain of their labors, what their eyes have seen, what their hands have clawed through. jean genet would have known how to glorify those callused hands. cannot even offer to shake them. i feel conspicuously invisible, dressed so poorly in the pre-dawn of national mourning. when the sun rises i shall dress in white, with respect for the ash veiling our city. the ash of our cremated towers.

Query for Harry Smith

South Tower

  artwork by patti smith

9.14 a day of national mourning
it is a morning for mourning. we, the people of the city, awaken to the rain. the god of abraham is weeping. allah is weeping. the feet of jesus, and mohammed are wet with tears and the people bow and grasp the damp earth.

a day of mourning, and for what shall we mourn? the humanity and the humanity invested in its architecture? the fate of the innocent afghan peoples? shall we mourn our inability as a people to communicate?

we are still the children of babel. speaking in divided tongues, unable to comprehend one another. the cries amongst the rubble of that colossal wreck are our own. babel's tower possessed the collective imagination of man. but they unlawfully penetrated the dreams of god. their ability to communicate was confounded to punish them for a lack of humility. perhaps when we humble ourselves as a people, will we communicate again.

once, in another century, i penned with arrogance, "i am an american artist, and i have no guilt." now i feel compelled to utter, "i am an american artist, and i feel guilty about everything." in spite of this i will not turn away: i will keep working. this i perceive as duty. as i pray to god that in days to come, i will not awake and rise with the blood of the afghan people dripping from my american hands.

may we ask for wisdom and, in possessing it, the moral courage to exercise it. may we ask to be emptied of hate so to attain harmony. may we strive to comprehend one another.

for the first time since the attack, i enter a subway. i go as far as broadway & nassau and a walk to liberty street. i have my first view of ground zero. i come here with some reservation, as i do not wish to trespass. but i want some answer to a question vaguely formed. like a child i want to see them, or what is left of them, and say goodbye. i also believe they will tell me something of why i care for them so much, why i miss them, and how they should be remembered. in this pursuit i am ranted this vision: from liberty street i see their skeletal remains, resembling brueghel's portrait of babel. atop them two twisted fingers reach heavenward in the perfect shape of a v. the simple sign for peace.

we return to work. our mayor has wisely counseled us to engage in our daily human tasks. i know now why i mourn our towers. because they were young, and symbolized the optimistic strength of our young nation. my wall has twin sheets of paper. there is no image. i have decided that is my portrait. not what we see, but what we don't see and will never see again. two pure white sheets empty as the sky to the right of my stoop at the base of my street.



Patti Smith