Put on sackcloth,
roll in ashes;,
mourn as for an only son,,
a most bitter lamentation.,
8 am: On a rare, crystal blue New York morning, a news reporter, second day on the job, arrives at her desk two hours early.
8:46: American Airlines Flight 11 hits the North Tower. The fledgling reporter kicks off her high heels and runs barefoot through the gridlock of people and cars toward the Towers. “Look at that, it’s pieces of glass,” she says. “No, those flickers are people jumping,” comes the answer. She tastes ashes on her tongue.
9:03: United Airlines flight 175 hits the South Tower Smoke engulfs New York City.
9:05: President George W. Bush reads The Pet Goat to students in Florida. Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispers to him “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.” The President continues to read rather than alarm the children.
In Windsor, Ontario, a man flips on the TV. He sees people fall to their death in real time. He sobs. And sobs. He tastes ashes on his tongue.
9:28: United Airlines Flight 93 is hijacked. In San Diego, a father walks his tearful son to the middle school bus stop. They had visited the World Trade Center five months earlier. The boy tastes ashes on his tongue.
9:37: American Airlines flight 77 hits the western face of the Pentagon. A violent fire ignites.
9:59: The South Tower implodes. A reporter stares at one tower shining through white haze. A man in Brooklyn Heights watches the tower collapse on his TV screen. One or two seconds pass. The sound roars across the East River, and he hears it in real time. He steps
outside. A plume of smoke obscures the Brooklyn Bridge. He tastes ashes on his tongue.
10:03: After passengers fight back, Flight 93 crashes in a field in Pennsylvania. Within the hour, in a suburban high school outside Denver, the children and stepchildren of the co-pilot of Flight 93 are ushered to the office in silence and tears. A teacher watches the coverage in the classroom with her students. The footage shows people falling out of the windows from 50 stories up and people on the ground with faces covered in ash staring up in disbelief. They taste ashes on their tongues.
10:28: The North Tower implodes. A reporter feels the tumbling of the floors pancaking beneath her feet. She runs right out
of her shoes. “I’m not dressed for war.” It is like walking on the moon. Things land softly all around—thud, thud, thud—because of all the dust. She tastes ashes on her tongue.
12:30: A young woman’s drive home to Bronxville from New Jersey is like no other. No speeding. All drivers are as polite as possible. The George Washington Bridge is closed. She drives north to get home where she hugs her children (7, 5, and 3). They pray for Manhattan with the taste of ashes on their tongues.
Who can stop watching the planes hit the World Trade Center over and over? The two towers collapsing, the people jumping, the smoke and ash that fill the screen again and again?
Twenty years out: We tell this story for a generation who hadn’t yet been born. This long lament.
We still taste the ashes on our tongues.
About Susan Spear:
Susan Delaney Spear is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado Christian University. She is the author of Beyond All Bearing a collection of poetry (Wipf & Stock 2018) and the co-author of Learning the Secrets of English Verse, available from Springer in November 2019.