Requiem

lossy-page1-1256px-crack_troops_of_the_vietnamese_army_in_combat_operations_against_the_communist_viet_cong_guerrillas-_marshy_terrain_of_t_-_nara_-_541973-tif https://commons.wikimedia.org

By Alan Catlin

Ever since I had seen the photo exhibit Requiem: By Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina in May of 2001 at the Eastman House in Rochester, I had been a changed man. In that exhibit, the horrors of war they depicted, from the “Girl in the Photograph” to the “Young Girl with Two Kittens, A Chicken, and Her Father’s Rifle,” I was rendered speechless. The poems I wrote to these titles seemed inadequate to express the grief they contained. I had never seen and, to date, have not seen another exhibit quite like this one; one that could be described as life changing, vision altering, compelling, in ways that words cannot render.

I was also struck by an almost Zen quiet of a white painted wall, a simple table with a display of lilies and a stack of business cards with information for Viet Center Readjustment Counseling on them.  That, and the silence of the Vietnamese viewers of the exhibit, as they soundlessly slipped among the viewers taking in the images that were their legacy more than ours. There was the extra dimension of an eerie quiet at the exhibit that made the experience so compelling; it was sort of like being at a funeral that had lasted thirty-five years and wasn’t over yet.

Over the next four and half months, I worked on a collection of poems inspired directly by these photos.  This was a deeply felt, consuming project, unlike any other I had attempted previously. This project had to be a statement made through a linked series images with a suggested musical accompaniment; a sort of symphony, no, an actual Requiem, to somehow allay the silence that surrounded all these horrific pictures of war.  It would be my definitive statement on the futility of these kinds of conflicts and a tribute to all those people, photographers, and subjects, who had died there.  And by implication, it would be a statement against the inevitability of future wars, other senseless confrontations.  What a naive fool I was.

The draft for that collection was finished the week of September 3rd, 2001, my birthday week, and I thought about taking a break before revising the collection and seeking publication; Requiem could wait awhile. “The war is over” as Jim Morrison sang. The war is never over. How could I have thought otherwise?

And, of course, we all know what happened after that, on a beautiful September Tuesday, the week of September 10th.

I had called a friend that day in Michigan before taking a bus to the bar I was working in but he wasn’t in. As I had time to kill, roughly a half hour, I turned on CNN. I was reading a novel and not really paying close attention to the news of the moment, something involving some kind of small plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Or so it was reported at the time.

I looked up from my book to see some black smoke coming from one of the upper floors and thought little about it as the damage appeared minimal.  That is until this black shadow of death in the form of another, much larger plane crossed the screen and crashed into the second tower. “That was no accident,” I said out loud to no one.  Called my wife at her work and told her to prepare for something truly momentous and, most likely, awful.

It seems somewhat pretentious to say that what happened downtown with those planes had a direct impact on where I would be that day for some nine hours, a hundred fifty miles or so from Manhattan, but it did.  A fair portion of the staff were college students at the University of New York at Albany with direct ties to the Metropolitan area.  Some even had people downtown in the center, or, on the ground, nearby.  Like one of the night guys whose twin brother worked in the WTC and whose sister did as well.  His father worked in a neighboring building and the night guy was frantic to reach home by phone for news. Needless to say, all the lines were jammed, inoperable, or unresponsive.

The night waitress’s first cousin was a New York fireman. Her father, as well. Though no one knew that at the time. When she got to work, around five, nearly hysterical surrounded by televisions, ten in all, showing the same horrific images, minute by minute, hour by hour until it became almost unbearable and I asked her,” Erica, what’s wrong, what is going on with you?”

“They’re in there.”

“Who?

“Charlie.  My father.”

“Who’s Charlie?”

“He’s my cousin. My first cousin. He’s like a brother to me.  He’s a fireman.  So is my father.”

And it’s busy in the bar.  Very busy. The busiest Tuesday I ever worked, outside of a special holiday like St Patrick’s Day, and I’m surrounded by people, full tables, a near hysterical waitress, a drunk night bartender, who wants to drive home and the towers falling, falling, falling down.

But, somehow, I talk the bartender out of driving home.  His brother, sister, and father are okay. I think, maybe I got through to him by saying, “And how do you think they’d feel if you got killed today driving home?”

And Erica’s Dad and Charlie would be okay too, miraculously, but Charlie’s would be killed when that passenger plane crashes on Far Rockaway a few weeks later.  What are the odds of surviving 9-11 as a fireman and having a plane fall on your house? Enough for Erica to need a semester’s compassionate leave from college in her senior year.  But she comes back and she works Tuesday nights again and graduates.  I like this kind of ending to 9-11.  Erica is a good kid; a beautiful, smart, funny young lady and you want her to be okay.

Unlike the kid who calls the bar around six-thirty at night wanting to know if the free beer and chicken wings, Albany Democratic party for the primary election, is still on.  It’s been roughly eight hours plus since I started seeing those towers going down and hearing all the stories of the dead and the presumed dead, and the hopefully not dead, and I all I can say is, “They just blew up the World Trade Center, probably the most significant event that has happened in your, or anyone else’s, lifetime, and you’re worried about free beer and chicken wings?”

If he had an answer to that question, I didn’t hear it.

I didn’t sleep well that night or for a long time after.  I never revised that manuscript either.

Bio:

alan

Alan Catlin has been publishing for five decades; from the mimeos to the Internet.  He has published over sixty chapbooks and full-length books of prose and poetry. His most recent full-length book of poetry is American Odyssey from Future Cycle Press. Alan is also an editor and contributor at misfitmagazine.net.

Advertisements

S.W. Biddulph

Scott Biddulph is a published writer, author, and poet from North Georgia. He began writing as a youngster and followed his lifelong dream of reaching people through the written word when he returned to The University of North Georgia in 2013 to finish earning his BA/English with a concentration on publication and creative writing. His publications include the following: an eBook, Apples of Gold: A collection of inspirational short stories and poems (Smashwords, 2010) and a paperback, Voices from the Heart, (Createspace, 2012). His poetry is published in Papers and Publications Undergraduate Research Journal. Vol 3 (2014) and the award-winning Chestatee Review (Spring, 2015), among other places (Check his LinkedIn profile for a full list of his publications). He is currently working on publishing poetry, creative non-fiction, academic essays, and his memoir. Scott has also worked as an intern editor for the University of North Georgia Press. As a freelance editor, he has done the layout and design of several books and magazines. He is currently working with several authors on various publication projects in which he is either ghostwriting, editing manuscripts, or doing the layout and design. Scott continues working on his memoir Twisted Ride. He also maintains a Christian blog: A Disciple's Journey. Finally, and most importantly, he is a father, grandfather, husband, and dedicated Harley Davidson rider (with a huge beard). He and his family enjoy the beauty of the North Georgia Mountains where they live—especially their screened in back porch where they love to bird watch. - "I love realism. I love writing about the raw, down-to-Earth, heartfelt realities of life. I love to write in a way that reaches into the human soul. I love to take the greatest pains and struggles in life, and make them a blessing to others. Fantasy is a wonderful, interesting thing—but real life situations, feelings, fears, and dreams are an unexplored ocean of stories that need to be told." ~Scott Biddulph~

5 comments

  1. Alan, thank you for reminding us of the messier side of life. To often, we as people, walk around in our comfort bubble. The silence you referred too, sparked a memory for me while I was stationed overseas Iwakuni Japan. I visited Peace Park Hiroshima museum. I will tell you with certainty, there is still bitterness from that event. A very eerie silence I witnessed while watching actual news footage of the bomb. Thank you for the post.

    http://www.city.hiroshima.lg.jp/english/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Alan. Thank you for contributing this to Two Drops of Ink. I think on many levels, we need to hear the other stories of that day. Just as you pointed out, some funerals do not end – oh the event is over, but we are never the same. We can try to wall off the feelings, but a smell, sound, or reminder of that era, or that day will invariably happen and we’re taken back. As a teenager in the 60’s, many of my classmates went to Viet Nam. Some returned broken, some returned and continued on with their educations and lives and were shamed for fighting even when drafted, others did not return; they died in a far off field.

    I typically did not watch TV before going to work, but September 11, I turned it on. Like so many others, I was horrified, scared and needed to reach out to family, not knowing how far the violence could and would spread. My daughter lived in DC at the time and I could not reach her. It would be the following day before I knew that she was safe. While my outcome was positive, that day brought home the reality that we only have today. We are all directly or indirectly impacted by war and terrorism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alan,

      What powerful writing. After reading it, I had to comment. I am a Vietnam Veteran and I have seen many of the pictures in the exhibit along with hundreds more taken by photojournalist. I have trouble looking at them because they bring back my experiences of that horrid war. Anyone who says you overcome the tragedies of war is fooling themselves, you don’t.

      We recognize the 911 attacks as being attacks on our homeland and for most individuals, the only ones with which they can identify. We were all affected in some way or another. For some they were directly affected and will carry the scares forever.

      If you still have your writings, I encourage you to complete your project. There is so much technology available today, putting together those haunting pictures, a Requiem, and your writings would be powerful. Several have been done for 911, why not the famous pictures from Vietnam. Go for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Chuck and Marilyn. I have published many of the individual poems, the core ones, anyway. It took me the better part of 15 years to get to this essay’s composition so maybe it is time for the other piece also. It is especially meaningful to ne that you responded positively to the piece as a Vietnam veteran. The war is never over. 9-11 remains a where were you the day it happened, who did you know, what happened to them kind of day. For everyone.

        Liked by 1 person

Join the conversation. We welcome your thoughts and ideas!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s