Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2001 23:36:49 -0700
From: Chris Stroffolino Stroffolino <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Deirdre Simon <email@example.com>
Deirdre Simon wrote:
> Hi Chris,
> thanks for writing. i was thinking of writing to you even before disaster
> struck. you can't imagine what it's like here. at this point, i don't even
> know what to say. every morning when i wake up i have to remember again
> that the city is burning and death is on my doorstep. i watched the
> buildings consumed by flame, black and smoking, and i saw the first one
> crumble. i was standing on bedford, down by the water, near the diner.
> grown men were sobbing. i didn't cry until much later. i took pictures of
> the whole thing. the weather was perfect, and the tides were even on the
> shore. the water was peaceful; but beyond the water, the city was in smoke
> and city hall and the brooklyn bridge were barely visible.
> yesterday evening i took the J train into the city. it went only as far as
> delancey, and i got out there with my bike and rode my bike through the
> city. the streets are desolate. there are police barricades all along
> canal street, preventing people from going south. thousands of cops.
> thousands of firemen. constant sirens and flashing lights emergency.
> people walking desperately with masks on their faces to protect from smoke.
> i wanted to get further south, so i took a circuitous route down chrystie to
> get to the water. then i turned south and rode down, parallel to the water,
> towards the business district. there were virtually no civilians, only
> thousands of cops and army men in fatigues. there are ravaged cars
> everywhere, the metal twisted and black, collapsed, and fed ex boxes and
> computer printouts caught in the tangle. a dense, soft gray dust covers
> everything. and buildings continue to burn. huge skyscrapers are still
> burning, black smoke billowing through the sky, smelling like burnt plastic.
> it hurt my eyes, gave me a headache, made my lungs feel dry and hollow.
> i rode back to Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun set on the other
> side of the city. the sky was orange and gray, phenomenally somber and
> beautiful. the wooden slats of the footpath on the bridge rattled as i rode
> on them, speaking the voice of the bridge. a pillar of history and
> perseverance, the old wood, sitting there for over a hundred years, seemed
> to watch the disintegration of modernity and technology. witness to
> apocalyptic destruction. the members of the city struggle to harmonize a
> beacon of diversity whose apex has been imploded.
> in the darkness and in the light, it's hard to know what to do.
> love, Deirdre
> ** i may forward this to my family since i haven't written to them yet.
> ---(Saturday, 9/15)
> I wanted to at least thank you for your email, and let you know how it
> affects me. Very much so, and I think good (is there anything more I can
> I especially like the way your account becomes very poetic in the last
> paragraph. I not only can picture you riding over the Brooklyn Bridge at
> sunset and the sky's mixture of natural beauty and manmade destructing, and
> the way you manage to find some kind of solace, or focus, or hope, in the
> rattling of the wooden slats of the bridge's walkway---this I feel; you made
> (or allowed) me to remember my many bikerides over the bridge when I lived in
> "the slope" (even once or twice on the way to see you, well to Pat's, and
> then afterwards over the other bridge to see you and your work before band
> rehearsal), something I was mildly nostalgic for when I moved to
> Williamsburg. But it's not just your physical descriptions, but the way you
> evoke how the destruction around you made the bridge come much more ALIVE as
> a counterforce to all this unnatural death and destruction. Yes, unlike the
> WTC, and not just because of the bombing (to the extent it's not entirely
> accidental that it was the "sore thumb" of the towers, that may prove to be
> the 21st century "Titanic" [they said she'd never go down], as well as
> Lusitania, rather than the bridge that was bombed), the bridge becomes "a
> pillar of history of experience."
> I hope you don't mind what may seem like a coldly intellectual appreciation
> of your letter-I doubt I'd be writing this way if I was still in Brooklyn, at
> least not yet.
> I also hope you don't think I'm in any way justifying the bombing (as some
> have claimed in response to a draft of a poem I prematurely sent out on a
> poetry listserv). I'm not. But, I am thinking about that emblem you found in
> the bridge, and I just can't imagine that you would have found a similar
> emblem in the WTC had they been in each other's "shoes," I mean, had the
> bridge, and not the towers, been destroyed (the bridge, by definition, less
> likely to be a terrorist's target; the bridge more likely to be destroyed by
> 'nonhuman nature').
> I hope my metaphors aren't getting away from me here; I mean, I can't humanly
> embrace the flippant wit that would render the WTC Towers into wisdom teeth
> extracted, etc, however aesthetically appealing such an image may be, for a
> second at least. There is, sometimes, in me, a rift between these two I need
> to investigate, in hopes of bridging.
> I also like that you give (or find in) the bridge EYES as well as a voice. In
> this, like an updating of Hart Crane's THE BRIDGE, and, for me (of my
> historical time in this), much better because the bridge is NOT an emblem of
> "modernity and technology" as it was too much for Crane (though some would
> argue that even in Crane, the real bridge he was concerned with was not the
> actual, physical, Brooklyn one, on which Sonny Rollins would later try to
> develop a new sound, but a metaphorical, or symbolic, one BETWEEN "modernity
> and technology," on one hand (or shore), and "history and perseverance" on
> the other.
> Uh, maybe I'm babbling in the face of tragedy-from my distance, and I don't
> expect that such intellectualizations could provide any comfort for you, but
> it's my hope that you won't scorn them either---because all I'm really trying
> to say, on one level, is I very much admire the strength of YOUR character
> that comes through in your description of the bridge with voice and eyes, in
> part because another poet, Auden, in a poem at least 6 people, in different
> contexts, either spoke of to me, or sent as an email, "September 1, 1939," as
> being especially relevant to this past week's events (even down to the time
> of year), talks about "blind skyscrapers," blind even when they're standing;
> and such blindness can also, too often, blind us to the beauty (even in
> horror and tragedy, as you, with your painter's sensibility, evoked, even in
> words, and BY THE WAY, if you want to send them to me, I want to see those
> photos you took, but also, and even more, am eager to see the paintings that
> you'll hopefully be doing in the next several months.and, when I get more
> money, well.) of nature as seen in the sky, which becomes, in Crane, merely
> A "riptooth of the sky's acetylene."
> Hey, do you know that Auden poem? If not, I'll include it and send it to you.
> I'll eschew more thorough commentary on it for now---for I may have already
> said too much-but one more thing.I also love your penultimate sentence, "the
> members of the city struggle to harmonize a beacon of diversity whose apex
> has been imploded." I think that describes perfectly what so may of my other
> New York lovers and/or friends have been expressing to me through email and
> phone calls (especially Gary, Miriam, and Mike).
> But you put your finger on the feeling (that, misdirected, alas, by the
> media, finds, or renders, that Beacon in Bush or the Flag, or Auden's
> uncanny "ironical (thousand) points of light"---such a "beacon" seems more
> like the towers than the bridge, even in its stereotypical gender
> I believe, by contrast, you've found that beacon in the bridge, the bridge
> one with the sky and water it sees, the bridge you felt course through you
> like what some would call a "corresponding breeze" as if maybe you, too,
> could be its ambassador amidst the anger and fear, the unmentionable odour of
> death, and the "conservative dark" whose notions of private property (as
> Auden puts it) get in the way of "universal love." The bridge, too, more
> truly democratic and open to the public than ever the WTC was (again, please
> don't think I'm sanctioning or justifying the bombing, only to say that out
> of this tragedy I see you more acutely aware---ON A VISCERAL LEVEL---of a
> counterforce of "universal love" in the bridge than maybe you, or I, could
> have seen in it BEFORE the tragedy struck (I also slightly fear this may
> sound a little corny)). A bridge, in its horizontality, can help "undo the
> folded lie" of the vertical towers and cities (Dylan on New York in
> '62-"buildings going up to the sky; people going down the ground.") without
> having, or even wanting, to destroy them, except perhaps in "the mind." You,
> Deirdre, are obviously no terrorist! but are more truly effecting a
> transformation terrorism which the kind of war Bush may be gearing up for, can
> only, at best, parody---as they go about destructively mistaking "enterprises
> of great pit(c)h and moment" for action in a symbolic world.
> Your bridge, for me, is far better, also, than what Auden seems to hope for,
> "an affirming flame," (recent events show the flame to be pretty damn
> negative), even though he means love, rather than that which consumed the
> buildings but that, luckily, was too weak to consume you, in body and in
> Thank you, Deirdre. You've helped me find some beacon of strength. I hope we
> can talk soon (I did try, but can't get through to Brooklyn, even though I
> can to some of Manhattan).
> Love, Chris
> September 1, 1939
> W. H. Auden
> I sit in one of the dives
> On Fifty-second Street
> Uncertain and afraid
> As the clever hopes expire
> Of a low dishonest decade:
> Waves of anger and fear
> Circulate over the bright
> And darkened lands of the earth,
> Obsessing our private lives;
> The unmentionable odour of death
> Offends the September night.
> Accurate scholarship can
> Unearth the whole offence
> >From Luther until now
> That has driven a culture mad,
> Find what occurred at Linz,
> What huge imago made
> A psychopathic god:
> I and the public know
> What all schoolchildren learn,
> Those to whom evil is done
> Do evil in return.
> Exiled Thucydides knew
> All that a speech can say
> About Democracy,
> And what dictators do,
> The elderly rubbish they talk
> To an apathetic grave;
> Analysed all in his book,
> The enlightenment driven away,
> The habit-forming pain,
> Mismanagement and grief:
> We must suffer them all again.
> Into this neutral air
> Where blind skyscrapers use
> Their full height to proclaim
> The strength of Collective Man,
> Each language pours its vain
> Competitive excuse:
> But who can live for long
> In an euphoric dream;
> Out of the mirror they stare,
> Imperialism's face
> And the international wrong.
> Faces along the bar
> Cling to their average day:
> The lights must never go out,
> The music must always play,
> All the conventions conspire
> To make this fort assume
> The furniture of home;
> Lest we should see where we are,
> Lost in a haunted wood,
> Children afraid of the night
> Who have never been happy or good.
> The windiest militant trash
> Important Persons shout
> Is not so crude as our wish:
> What mad Nijinsky wrote
> About Diaghilev
> Is true of the normal heart;
> For the error bred in the bone
> Of each woman and each man
> Craves what it cannot have,
> Not universal love
> But to be loved alone.
> >From the conservative dark
> Into the ethical life
> The dense commuters come,
> Repeating their morning vow;
> "I will be true to the wife,
> I'll concentrate more on my work,"
> And helpless governors wake
> To resume their compulsory game:
> Who can release them now,
> Who can reach the deaf,
> Who can speak for the dumb?
> All I have is a voice
> To undo the folded lie,
> The romantic lie in the brain
> Of the sensual man-in-the-street
> And the lie of Authority
> Whose buildings grope the sky:
> There is no such thing as the State
> And no one exists alone;
> Hunger allows no choice
> To the citizen or the police;
> We must love one another or die.
> Defenceless under the night
> Our world in stupor lies;
> Yet, dotted everywhere,
> Ironic points of light
> Flash out wherever the Just
> Exchange their messages:
> May I, composed like them
> Of Eros and of dust,
> Beleaguered by the same
> Negation and despair,
> Show an affirming flame.Deirdre Letter---(Saturday, 9/15)