by Helen Thorington
There is an unfamiliar density here. China is no longer
that reality on the far side of the world, to which an earlier generation
of American children with bent spoons and small shovels dug on warm sunny
afternoons. It is here on the monitor screen. Segments of its Great Wall
dating from the 15th Century Ming Dynasty mingle with clouds from above
the predominantly desert plain and sand dunes of Western Africa and harbor
waters in Long Beach, California where the 70 year old RMS Queen Mary
lives out her retirement.
Dry lake beds in north-central China, the far horizons and starkly sculpted dolerite rock formations of the Karoo; mesembryanthemum flowers and dusty gravel roads; all dislocated, combined, compressed.
Like an eye flooded with too much light, our geographical space dilates.
|Size and shape alter; distance
gives way. China's Wall is 1,864 miles long. In images acquired by the space
ship Endeavour in April 1994, only segments from a desert region of north-central
China, are shown. Their sides, 16 to 26 feet high, are steep and smooth.
On the monitor the sections dwindle to thin orange bands and mingle at the
crossroads of three continents with the salt flats, gravel plains, and sand
dunes of Saudi Arabia. Blue cells and cloud cover, released from the atmosphere
of Western Africa, float in layers above.
Simultaneous world time supplants time of a successive character.
In a moment of temporal compression, my lover in Boston becomes my eyes.
I'm listening to the news, she emails. One of the World Trade Center Towers is on fire — apparently a plane crashed into it.
I turn on the TV. Center screen a grainy Dan Rather speaks solemn, silent words from a black and white window. All other channels are down.
Boston, Virginia, Maryland, London, Paris, Egypt, Russia, see what I cannot from my New York City home.
The towers rise above a metropolitan area that is New York
and the Alcedo and Sierra Negra volcanoes of the western Galapagos Islands.
Since 1835 there have been over 60 recorded eruptions on these volcanoes.
Triangular water cells and tower fragments float in their atmosphere.
Patterns repeat themselves.
A miniature island of Manhattan rests in a cell the size of a thumbnail.
I go to the bank. The door to the tellers' area is closed. We are admitted one by one. The supervisor is cautious and apologetic. All but a skeleton crew of police and firemen have left the Island.
Two women question each other. "Have you heard anything?" Each answers in the negative.
The bank TV shows the towers still standing.
The second tower is on fire.
All airports have been shut down — the White House evacuated.
I drive the five minutes to the waterfront and stop at one of the few places remaining where it's still possible to see across New York harbor. Manhattan is the size of an architect's model. I watch black smoke rise from tiny burning structures at the horizon of my world.
The Atlas Mountains dominate the geography of Morocco. In this image, the complex disrupted folds in their layered rock couple with Ground Zero. To the right a twinned tree from the grounds of California's Mt. Wilson observatory, rises like a skyscraper above the layered Niger clouds.
They're saying that the second plane was a hijacked plane
on its way from Boston to L.A.
Like space ships fragments of the towers fly across the
face of New York State and South Central Egypt. Across downtown Washington,
Virginia and Maryland. A barely visible dark strip is the National Mall,
and the Ellipse. White House grounds, were they visible, would be seen
as an adjacent dark patch. There is smoke in the air.
Less than an hour has passed. American Airlines Flight 77 has slammed into the Pentagon's western flank. The government has been shut down.
On Tysen Street, as in so many locations, loved ones wait. Dick, the local historian, answers the phone. Disappointed, he tells us he is still hopeful that Toni is safe. Her office was on the 57th floor, Tower One.
Ominous and beautiful, cells — dark green and purple — accumulate
above reflections from a pier in Mystic, Connecticut and the detailed
patterns of eroded sedimentary rock formations and thick black ridges
of sand in the Sahara. Pipes from the Queen Mary disappear in the ghostly
remains of the towers.
It was the debris falling past her windows that convinced Toni to leave her office and begin the descent to the street. It took 45 minutes to get down the stairs. The firemen coming up told them to go back.
Others, unable to escape jumped from the tower windows.
You can see them, if you go down there now you can see them jumping out the windows, right now!
A child on Chambers Street near PS 234 calls out to his teacher that the birds are on fire.
In the lobby they can hear the impact of bodies.
Remnants of the north tower's façade penetrate the
waters of Lake Waban, sink into oil slicks in the Arabian Sea, pierce
muscle tissue and the scars left several hundred million years ago in
the Sahara Desert of northern Chad by the impact of an asteroid or comet.
At 9:59 the south tower collapses from the top down. Police officers scream for people to leave the area. At 10:28 the north tower collapses. Clouds of dust and tower debris pour down on the city.
People were screaming
(they) walked around like
ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering, dazed
The remnants cover China, the peak of Everest and its glacial surfaces, they cover Niger's clouds. Their structure is mirrored in golden cells.
She walks to Brooklyn. It is one o'clock before she can call home.
Along with geography goes all that we know of these places:
Oudtshoorn, principal town of the Little Karoo was once the ostrich feather
capital of the world. Close by in the Cango Caves bushman paintings indicate
that the caves were occupied by man as early as the Middle Stone Age.
Here on the monitor's screen history disappears.
NOW is all that matters.
The air smells of smoke and jet fuel.
places, histories connect
The now familiar steel girders, once the lower façade
of the north tower lie in the charred darkness of Ground Zero, and across
the semi-desert of the Karoo, a once lushly vegetated swamp filled with
strange extinct creatures whose remains, like sealed archives, are now
compressed in rock. The twinned Roter Kamm impact crater, formed by a
meteorite approximately 5 million years ago hollows their surfaces, its
thick windblown sand deposits mixing with rubble, crumbling cliffs and
Hours later, fire causes another building, 7 World Trade Center, to collapse. It had been burning since shortly after the planes struck. Other nearby buildings are also ablaze. Smoke drifts through the streets. You can taste the debris.
|September 12. The next day. Pink
diatoms float over the ruins, over ancient drainage systems buried by windblown
sand, over cerebellum and nerve glue. Microscopic with beautifully complex
patterns these algae are one of the most abundant plants in the universe.
In life they produce at least a quarter of the oxygen we breathe. In death
they rain down on ocean floors, where their oil-rich plasma is eventually
buried and transformed into petroleum.
Smoke continues to rise from the broken skyline.
A blue haze covers Ground Zero and the smoldering destruction of the two towers. A barely visible bulldozer and car lie hidden in the ash and debris with the "Great Bend" in the Nile River, the Weddell Sea with its rounded blue-gray ice flows, oil slicks on the surface of the Arabian Sea, and the silt-laden waters of the Orange River, South Africa's longest river, pressing its way westward toward the Atlantic.
All yesterday, all today, the planes keep hitting
the buildings and bursting into flames; the towers keep crumbling. Inches
of ash cloak buildings, emergency vehicles, and people.
A media event suffused with unreality and disbelief.
It is not known how many of the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people who may have been in the World Trade Twin Towers were killed.
Families wait. Hearts pump pain.
Ground Zero: tower remains; blood cells. There is no definite geography. Remnants of the destruction lie everywhere, against the dark, smooth basins and valleys of Death Valley-the dark streaks of windblown sand in the Sahara Desert of northern Chad where the concentric rings of the Aorounga impact crater rise. They mingle with storm cells on the ocean surface of the Western Pacific Ocean near the Solomon Islands. They will fall against the complex folds in the layered rocks of the Atlas Mountains in East Morocco. And mingle with the gas, vapor and ash of the erupting Kliuchevskoi volcano in Russia, the 300 feet thick sand deposits covering the original floor of the Roter Kamm impact crater, the dramatic landscape in the Phang Hoei Range of north central Thailand
President Bush declares war. It will be a new kind of war, in which the enemy too is everywhere and nowhere.
|back||© Helen Thorington, 2003|