Imagining 9/11

Of course I remember 9/11. I have nothing to add to that, no interesting or meaningful anecdote. I was horrified, saddened, and appalled by everything about the attacks and their aftermath–which means I was also horrified, saddened, and appalled by the world we mostly chose not to believe we were living in beforehand, the world we had made, the world of consequences.

I’ve left the “we” unspecified in that paragraph, just as I left most first person pronouns, singular or plural, more or less ambiguous throughout Parasite Kingdom. That was a consequence of 9/11 for me: a book in which individual identities briefly cohere, then disperse or explode. Some–the more mythic ones, like the Wasp herself–manage to seem more stable, more durable, but that’s an illusion that keeps archetypes alive. The Wasp, too, can be unimagined, the way Al-Qaeda unimagined the towers, the way we (there I go again) unimagined every uncolonized person we encountered and called it “history,” until there was no way we would not experience an “unimaginable” consequence.

(For those who haven’t read it: in Parasite Kingdom, a mythically gigantic blue wasp lives in a nest beneath the palace of her nemesis, a petty despot. The Kingdom is at war–with itself and maybe with external enemies. The Wasp is also the subject of a cult in the kingdom. The book isn’t exactly a narrative, but those are some basic facts of its narrative universe.)

Parasite Kingdom wasn’t the only thing I worked on in the years after 9/11. I had already written one book (Butcher’s Sugar) and would soon start another (Motion Studies–also motivated by a disaster), both of which would be published long before Parasite Kingdom. That was largely because I kept putting it off. I hated spending time in that kingdom, hated it. But I kept coming back until I finally finished it, spurred in part by the events of 2016. (It’s all of a piece.)

“Fear” was the first poem I was able to write after 9/11 and the first poem that would lead me toward Parasite Kingdom. In those weeks, there was a classroom window my colleagues and I used to stand at, staring dumbly at an old brick building behind us. It seemed like that roof was being repaired for centuries, like repair was something that no one could complete. As I stood there brooding, my imagination re-worked horror and despair into something I could manage, and this poem finally came to me. I had no idea what it would lead to.

Many thanks to Witness, where “Fear” originally appeared, and to The Word Works, with very special gratitude to Leslie McGrath (1957-2020), founding editor of the Tenth Gate imprint.

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