I want not, ever, to know this…

Most of my friends would probably describe me as a storyteller — and one prone to exaggeration at that. But there are a handful of stories I do not like to tell, and at the top of the list is about September 11, 2001. I had just moved to New York City, and worked near the World Trade Center, on Williams Street near the corner of Williams and Fulton. I got to work early for new job, eager to make a good impression, and found myself at ground zero on Sept. 11.

That day is a very bad memory that I do not care to summon, ever. But as bad as that was, the weeks that followed were worse. First, there was the waiting. Then there were the funerals. But mostly the whole city was just heartbroken. I remember a few days after it happened I saw a woman sobbing, violently sobbing, as she was grocery shopping at the supermarket near my apartment.

At one point I wrote about September 11, but I couldn’t write about what happened. I still can’t. Last week someone asked me about it, and although I managed to avoid discussing it, just the asking shut me down deep inside — I was not in a mood to talk about anything for several days.

This is not something I know; I’m generally a talkative, transparent person. My friends would probably tell you I don’t keep secrets well (it’s true: I don’t). So being unwilling to talk about something is not familiar or comfortable for me. At the same time, it’s not something I want to share. It’s deep, and dark, and terrifying. And there is nothing to be done about it; there is no comforting it. Poems have sustained me through a lot of things, but September 11 makes me think of this poem by CK Williams, which is — warning — pretty dark:


This time the hold-up man didn’t know a video-sound camera hidden up in a corner

was recording what was before it or more likely he didn’t care, opening up with his pistol,

not saying a word, on the clerk you see blurredly falling and you hear – I keep hearing –

crying, “God, God,” in that voice I was always afraid existed within us, the voice that knows

beyond illusion the irrevocability of death, beyond any dream of being not mortally injured –

“You’re just falling asleep, someone will save you, you’ll wake again, loved ones beside you. …”

Nothing of that: even torn by the flaws in the tape it was a voice that knew it was dying,

knew it was being–horrible–slaughtered, all that it knew and aspired to instantly voided;

such hopeless, astonished pleading, such overwhelmed, untempered pity for the self dying;

no indignation, no passion for justice, only woe, woe, woe, as he felt himself falling,

even falling knowing already he was dead, and how much I pray to myself I want not, ever,

to know this, how much I want to ask again why I must, with such perfect, detailed precision,

know this, this anguish, this agony for a departing self wishing only to stay, to endure,

knowing all the while that, having known, I always will know this torn, singular voice

of a soul calling “God!” as it sinks back through the darkness it came from, cancelled, annulled.

3 Responses to “I want not, ever, to know this…”

  1. mhmele Says:

    Oh, Nicco. I am so sorry.

  2. As If It Matters » Blog Archive » What We Need Is Here Says:

    […] I have written twice before about my experience of Sept. 11 – the first time was just a few months after the attack and the second time was last year. […]

  3. The Cure at Troy | As If It Matters Says:

    […] poems that have stayed with me as my salve: Try To Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski, Fragment by CK Williams (you can hear him read this poem on Slate, which I highly recommend), I, May I Rest […]

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