Recently was the fifteen-year anniversary of the September eleventh attacks. For my generation, this was our JFK moment, where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard, or saw, the terrorist atrocity taking place.
At the time I was a postman here in Manchester, and had just caught up on my sleep with a couple of hours in the afternoon. I saw it all unfold, disbelievingly, as I was getting ready to pick my daughter up from school.
On the mantelpiece was a postcard, having arrived that day, from a woman who I had known for many years. We’d first met in infant school, and became best friends in high school, that close friendship continuing long into my adult life. The postcard was from New York, and among the scribbled lines was a throwaway comment that she was intending to go up one of those towers that I’d just seen erupting into flames.
After a few frantic calls, (in the days before we both had mobiles), I discovered that her mother had heard from her: she was safe in L.A. She had been about to travel to San Francisco until all of the planes had been grounded, stranding her there.
This was the first shaking of my complacency about our long relationship.
Today we are married, with children. I’ve seen the photographs she took from the top of one of those towers just a couple of days before it collapsed, unable to fathom the sheer desperation that could force people to jump from such a height.
I wrote a poem not long after that tragic day, a long one called American Trilogy. It wasn’t about 9/11 per se, but it did feature. How could it not.
The poem didn’t make into my book. Perhaps one day I will publish it in its entirety.
Here I post the closing lines, referring to that day and the idea that my lifelong friend was over there. Somewhere.
I received word across
that your wings
were torn upon the besieged
your eyes reaping shelter
from a holocaust
A pre-emptive strike
at my complacency,
praying for an eye in the storm.
And you, snug in a motherland
of flag-waving lambs
where everyone wants to be quarterback,
everyone wants to be General,
everyone wants to lay the homecoming queen.
Icons in an American dream.
©Andrew James Murray
Manchester: the sun was out; the sky blue; the trams were running again.
And when I’m down,
when I’m down,
and she wants me now.
And when she wants me now,
then I start to climb.
©Andrew James Murray
Hey Bobbie Gentry
where did you go?
There’s a guy over in Collyhurst
who’d really like to know.
It’s always when he’s on a bridge
that he feels so.