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Eye Witness Account ∼ “Remembering 9/11” by Linda Lerner

Linda Lerner


“Safe House ∼ Chelsea Hotel Room 514”




(Text of: “Safe House: Chelsea Hotel, Room 514”)

I. 9/12/2001

What led me to this prewar haven

to sink into green moss

breathe in green like oxygen

be sheltered by these impenetrable green walls,

who or what should I thank

for being one of the lucky ones

after… one of the lucky ones

II. 9/13/2001

To get back

is to go thru numerous check points,

show ID to prove I live on Greenwich street,

am the same woman in that photo

taken before 9/11/2001, the lie…

no straight route,

diverted this way, that

people group solitary,

white masks over parched mouths

we drift down broken cobbled streets

wheeling backpacks

to or away from

what there isn’t any word for yet in English.

knocked into some other dimension

can only ask

does this subway go…

how much further to

clutching bottles of water

for our lives;

seven or eight more blocks,

air worsens; lineup of huge trucks

carrying supplies for exhausted men

in cleanup/rescue operation,

equipment to remove what

can’t ever be removed;

long row of huge white satellite dishes

flower in frozen bloom on Greenwich street;

radios explode Arabs  terrorists  Bin Laden;

red cross ladies eye witness news firemen police

in one place everyplace;

I adjust my mask: mouth, eyes

to see just enough

no more…

Suspicious suitcase half a block away,

and danger of gas explosions prevent us
from entering our building;

we sit on wooden boxes left outside a closed store

half a block away

and wait for the bomb squad;

see my mother seated on a similar, smaller box

in our living room after my grandmother died,

hear my father’s seventeen-year old hurt voice

in his aging manhood

reach past a daughter’s closed ears,

boy thrown out by his own father

 to join other boys

marching away from Russia’s

killer army death squad…

Through shift of wind’s swirl of dust particles, debris

bits, pieces … his mother pushed into a stove,

father hid in cemeteries,

caught pneumonia,  gone  gone …

Endless trudge thru police search snow,

three years wait in Amsterdam…

America! oh America!

Angry woman’s voice criticizing someone

for tying up the free phone

with grocery shopping rug cleaning

in times like these

snaps me back to 2001

III. 9/14/2001

I force back the urge to vomit

from the odor of spoiled meat

and stench of burning of death;

take what I need from my apartment

and flee;

new immigrant’s fear seizes me

when a marshal in gray uniform, high hat and boots

riffle skinned close

finches programmed ready

when I look like I’m

trying to sneak by without showing my papers

have not been checked by the cop

who went for a map to assist me,

and gets back just in time;

for now I breathe easy….

that night, all next day I take cover

as my father did more than

half a century ago,

smoke from another world

a war we won

blows in through closed windows, decades

from my father’s Russia,

sirens that struck fear in him

years after he left

blares thru my safe house

hijacked planes y into the same twin towers

as this city, my city burns through

a TV screen…

I flatten my palms against the walls, press hard

into its old green, force of life green fuse

of Dylan Thomas, green spirit of

all the artists who stayed here

of Virgil Thompson, Huncke Thomas Wolf

bury myself in green to stay alive in green….

V. 9/15/2001

Crunch of news trucks outside my building,

Verizon, AT&T, trucks carrying huge cranes

construction material…

crowd snapping cameras at

the enormity of a lunatic’s vision

that made it out,

still smoking… alive

vaporized human imprints

burnt into twisted metal and steel;

all masks off now

V & VI. 9/16-17

To avoid getting lost

I go home: room 514, Chelsea,

for two days, rarely leave

except to buy food, a newspaper;

faces of the missing, everywhere,

on street poles store windows with me here…

V11. 9/18/2001

I walk up the wide steps of my building,

too preoccupied and too much noise

to notice construction crew at work

with drills, jackhammers

in the plaza outside;

flip the switch,

and the lights come on,

re set the VCR, clocks,

clean up the gray white hazardous dust

shrouds everything, and

ignorantly try using a can of Lysol

to disinfect death…

out back men continue work

on a gentrification project

begun weeks before…

first day of Rosh Ha Shona,

machines attack concrete

force green through putrid cement mud

to green a landlord’s property,

his dirty palm….

Jew descendent of people

from my father’s world,

blinded by green, inflicts pain,

on those just evacuated from their lives

to what has to be done survival;

a silent scream forced back all week

rose up in my throat, unleashed

all the artillery

a human heart is capable of

at these Spanish, Dominican, Pakistani immigrants

who barely understand English,

hired to do a job

to put food on their tables, feed their families

men like my father who came here with dreams

stare at me in bewilderment….

My neighbor rushes out to calm me down….

nothing you can do about it


I shove aside:

bastards, sons of bitches

killers, I scream at something

elusive, too primitive

to see, hiding right in front of me,

scream to prove I’m still alive:

to be heard

above the sound of death

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