The WTC Attack, Sep 11 2001

Commentary and Analysis

Suheir Hammad: First writing since . . .

This powerful piece is from Suheir Hammad. Suheir is the author "Born Palestinian, Born Black" and other books. She is a black Palestinian woman, based in Brooklyn. One of her brothers is in the US Navy, and due to be called up for active duty.
first writing since

1. There have been no words.
I have not written one word.
no poetry in the ashes south of Canal Street.
no prose in the refrigerated trucks driving debris and DNA.
not one word.

Today is a week, and seven is of heavens, gods, science.
evident out my kitchen window is an abstract reality.
sky where once was steel.
smoke where once was flesh.

Fire in the city air, and i feared for my sister's life in
a way never before.
and then, and now, i fear for the rest of us.

First, please God, let it be a mistake, the pilot's heart
failed, the plane's engine died.
then please God, let it be a nightmare, wake me now.
please God, after the second plane, please, don't let it
be anyone who
looks like my brothers.

I do not know how bad a life has to break in order to kill.
I have never been so hungry that i willed hunger
I have never been so angry as to want to control a gun over a pen.
not really. even as a woman, as a Palestinian, as a
broken human being.
never this broken.

More than ever, I believe there is no difference.
The most privileged nation, most Americans do not know
the difference between Indians, Afghanis, Syrians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus.
more than ever, there is no difference.

2. Thank you Korea for kimchi and bibim bob, and corn
tea and the genteel smiles of the wait staff at Wonjo
The smiles never revealing the heat of the food
or how tired they must be working long midtown shifts.
Thank you Korea, for the belly craving that brought me
into the city late the night before
and diverted my daily train ride into the World Trade Center.

There are plenty of thank yous in NY right now.
thank you for my lazy procrastinating late ass.
thank you to the germs that had me call in sick.
thank you, my attitude, you had me fired the week before.

thank you for the train that never came,
the rude NYer who stole my cab going downtown.
thank you for the sense my mama gave me to run. thank you for my legs,
my eyes, my life.

3. The dead are called lost and their families hold up
shaky printouts in front of us through screens smoked up.
We are looking for Iris, mother of three.
please call with any information.
we are searching for Priti, last seen on the 103rd floor.
She was talking to her husband on the phone and the line went.
please help us find George, also known as Adel.
his family is waiting for him with his favorite meal.
i am looking for my son, who was delivering coffee.
i am looking for my sister girl, she started her job on monday.

I am looking for peace.
I am looking for mercy.
I am looking for evidence of compassion.
any evidence of life.
I am looking for life.

4. Ricardo on the radio said in his accent thick as yuca,
"I will feel so much better when the first bombs drop over there, and
my friends feel the same way."

On my block, a woman was crying in a car parked and stranded in hurt.
I offered comfort, extended a hand she did not see before she said,
"We"re gonna burn them so bad, I swear, so bad."
My hand went to my head, and my head went to the numbers within it of the
dead Iraqi children, the dead in Nicaragua.
the dead in Rwanda who had to vie with fake sport wrestling for
America's attention.

Yet when people sent emails saying, this was bound to happen, lets not
forget U.S. transgressions,
for half a second I felt resentful.
hold up with that, cause I live here, these are my friends and family,
and it could have been me in those buildings, and we're not bad people,
do not support america's bullying.
can I just have a half second to feel bad?

If I can find through this exhaust people who were left behind to mourn
and to resist mass murder, I might be alright.

Thank you to the woman who saw me brinking my cool
and blinking back tears.
She opened her arms before she asked "Do you want a hug?"
A big white woman, and her embrace was the kind only people with the
warmth of flesh can offer.
I wasn't about to say no to any comfort.
"My brother's in the Navy," I said. "and we"re Arabs".
"Wow, you got double trouble."

5. If one more person asks me if I knew the hijackers,
one more motherfucker asks me what navy my brother is in.
one more person assumes no Arabs or Muslims were killed.
one more person assumes they know me, or that I represent a people,
or that a people represent an evil,
or that evil is as simple as a flag and words on a page.

We did not vilify all white men when Mcveigh bombed Oklahoma.
America did not give out his family's addresses or where he went to church,
or blame the Bible or Pat Robertson.
When the networks air footage of Palestinians dancing in the street,
there is no apology that hungry children are bribed with sweets that
turn their teeth brown,
that correspondents edit images,
that archives are there to facilitate lazy and inaccurate journalism.

When we talk about holy books and hooded men and death,
why do we never mention the KKK?

If there are any people on earth who understand how New York is feeling
right now,
they are in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

6. Today it is ten days.
Last night Bush waged war on a man once openly funded by the CIA.
I do not know who is responsible.
I read too many books, know too many people to believe what
I am told.
I don't give a fuck about bin Laden.
His vision of the world does not include me or those I love,
and petitions have been going around for years trying to get the U.S.
sponsored Taliban out of power.
Shit is complicated, and I don't know what to think,
but I know for sure who will pay.
in the world. It will be women, mostly colored and poor.
Women will have to bury children, and support themselves
through grief.

"Either you are with us, or with the terrorists"
- meaning, keep your people under control and your resistance censored.
Meaning we got the loot and the nukes.

In America, it will be those amongst us who refuse blanket attacks on
the shivering,
those of us who work toward social justice, in support of civil
liberties, in opposition to hateful foreign policies.

I have never felt less American and more New Yorker, particularly
Brooklyn, than these past days.
The stars and stripes on all these cars and apartment windows represent
the dead as citizens first, not family members, not

I feel like my skin is real thin, and that my eyes are only going to get
The future holds little light.

My baby brother is a man now, and on alert,
and praying five times a day that the orders he will take in a few days'
time are righteous
and will not weigh his soul down from the afterlife he deserves.

Both my brothers - my heart stops when I try to pray - not a beat to
disturb my fear.
one a rock god, the other a sergeant, and both
Palestinian, practicing
Muslims, gentle men.
Both born in Brooklyn, and their faces are of the
archetypal Arab man,
all eyelashes and nose and beautiful color and stubborn hair.

What will their lives be like now?

Over there is over here.

7. All day, across the river, the smell of burning
rubber and limbs
floats through.
The sirens have stopped now.
The advertisers are back on the air.
The rescue workers are traumatized.
The skyline is brought back to human size,
no longer taunting the gods with its height.

I have not cried at all while writing this.
I cried when I saw those buildings collapse on themselves
like a broken heart.
I have never owned pain that needs to spread like that.
and I cry daily that my brothers return to our mother
safe and whole.

There is no poetry in this.
There are causes and effects.
There are symbols and ideologies,
mad conspiracy here, and information we will never know.

There is death here, and there are promises of more.

There is life here.
Anyone reading this is breathing, maybe hurting, but
breathing for sure,

and if there is any light to come,
it will shine from the eyes of those who look for peace
and justice.
after the rubble and rhetoric are cleared, and the phoenix
has risen.

Affirm life.
Affirm life.
We've got to carry each other now.
You are either with life, or against it.
Affirm life.

--Suheir Hammad

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