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September 12, A Love Story

Karren Alenier

In September 2001, Andrea Carter Brown lived a block from the twin towers of the World Trade Center. She could see them out her apartment window. The morning of the attack, she was reading the newspaper when the phone rang. Her sister Deborah in North Carolina asked if she was OK.

"…Are you OK? Sure. Pause.Why? On "Good Morning America" I just saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center. Didn't you hear anything? I walk to the far end of the living room. The North Tower is so close, I must raise the sash and stick my head out to see the top. Dark rivers of smoke pour through windows licked by flames; a thick gray tornado's snout rises from the roof. That tower will fall. I couldn't be more sure. I have to flee. I run back, slam down the phone, in dirty clothes, no bra or belt, lock up, get as far as the elevator, run back to grab my almost dead cell phone, leave for the second time. 9:03 a.m. 9/11 begins for me."  —from "September 12" in September 12 by  Andrea Carter Brown


How does one write a book to describe such a horror and have an audience? The Steiny Road Poet has been thinking about this and realizing in a way she had not done before that war had broken out against the United States with that day's three instances of terrorism—the World Trade Center attack, the Pentagon attack, and the hijacking to an unknown destination of United Flight 93. Unlike the Pentagon attack and the downing of United Flight 93, the fall of the Trade Center's twin towers displaced people living nearby.

While Angel, her building's doorman, tells her not to worry, the poet knows he is only doing his job and that he is unquestionably wrong. So, what does she do? She decides to stay close to the Hudson River and to head further downtown in the opposite direction that everyone else is running. She provides maps in her book showing where she traveled that day.

"More terrified of flying glass, of being burned alive, or crushed, of not being able to out-run the mob staring up when panic struck, I head south, stick close to the water. I'll jump in if the towers fall, let the current carry me away, tread water until some boat rescues me. And if not, I'd rather drown."  —from "September 12" in September 12  by  Andrea Carter Brown


Brown's book contains five sections in this order:

—Cloud Studies: Hudson River School

—September 12th

—The Rock in the Glen

—To the Dust

—The Present


Section I, features Brown's own Hudson River School of art. The eight poems are landscapes and portraits that depict love of New York on the Hudson, her husband, friends (like poet Molly Peacock) and historic and contemporary notables who are usually New Yorkers but not always. What we, the readers, should understand is that Brown saw the Hudson River as a potential sanctuary during her escape from the burning towers. A favorite of this section is "Each Boat Signs the Water" which is formatted in an impressionistic version of what waves look like. Here are the first two stanzas.


Each boat signs the water with its wake, the way

a thumb print matches no other, or whales,

when they dive, leave a signature,
a calm so specific, biologists can

tell which individual swims

below their boat before
the whale surfaces
to breathe.


I've watched the river two years now. By now

I know the names of tugs, the ebb and flow

of tankers and barges, when the next
bright yellow banana boat

comes in. I've caught

at dawn an ocean

liner cruise
into port.


"Each Boat Signs the Water" is an homage to Gertrude Stein's good friend Guillaume Apollinaire and his best-known poem "Le pont Mirabeau"—The Mirabeau Bridge. Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine River. Apollinaire's poem concerns how fleeting love is. Brown's format is also a nod to Apollinaire's Calligrams, a collection of concrete poems.


Section III, "The Rock in the Glen" memorializes the eleven lives lost on 9/11 in Glen Rock, NJ, a town that Brown lived in as a child.



                              Homage to Whitman


Picture a pretty town, peaceful, stately

trees lining its streets, children walking
to school weekday mornings. Picture
cars, bikes, and pedestrians converging
on the two train stations at the same time,

the hurried goodbyes. Picture a quietness

after the commuters leave, the pretty town

like Sleeping Beauty waiting to be kissed

awake when they return. Picture the spill

of play, parties, and gossip across yards

without hedges or fences. Picture a breeze

rustling the oaks and maples, spreading

the news the morning of September 11.

Picture a pretty town brought to its knees.


The metaphors of Sleeping Beauty (innocence and vitality) and knees (utter defeat) economically sum up the blow suffered. Brown is a meticulous writer who is careful with the craft of poetry.

Section IV with its 19 poems deals with the aftermath of 9/11, the daily fear and anger for what happened. Brown and her husband are told to get over it. Sometimes the poems present as stories ("The Kiss"), reports ("Shopping Spree, September 13th"), bits ("After the Disaster: Fragments"), questions ("The Old Neighborhood"), live accounts ("Pilgrimage"), pictures ("Pinstriped Bullies"), directivies ("Burial Instructions"). In this section, Steiny finds the answer to how Andrea Carter Brown keeps her audience in this remarkable collection of poetry about death, destruction, and terrible consequences.




Let's not romanticize bodies

falling. Others may use float

or dance; I refuse to pretend.


They were not graceful, quiet.

They fell unbelievably fast.

Straight down. Head first.


Some screamed. The sound

they made landing? Forget

thud. Louder than the wind.


The ten poems of Section V "The Present" begin with this graffiti quote, "Every day is a gift, that's why we call it the present." The last section is a meditation on home (a new home in California) and country as well as living. It brings us up to the present with such lines as these:


May, 2020


Nineteen years later, the latest survey

arrives in an email in the middle
of the pandemic.


The deceased recently exceeded the total

killed on 9/11, the US soldiers
dead in Viet Nam.


In this poem, Brown doesn't sugar coat the aftermath of 9/11. She still has trouble sleeping because she frequently dreams, she died. She says she believes her life has been shortened and she wheezes with asthmatic episodes. She answers the World Trade Center survey because she thinks her answers might do others good and she hopes in the future her survey answers will yield more responses of seldom, almost never, and not at all.

Coming full circle from the first poem in the book ("The Magic Hour"), "Domestic Karma," as the last poem, is a love poem set in Brown's backyard where now there are citrus trees, hens, chicks, and clean laundry being hung out to dry. It's an ironic but loving jab at the alternative—airing one's dirty laundry. While "The Magic Hour" begins, leaning on the balustrade like spoons,/ your arms around my midriff, "Domestic Karma" refers to Clean underwear/ made fresh for the body you love/ to undress.

Andrea Carter Brown's September 12.000000000000000000 is a collection of poems that will both steal away your breath and make you sigh in admiration for the love in it.


September 12 was published by The Word Works and launched September 12, 2021. Andrea Carter Brown is an award-winning author of three previous collections of poetry.

Author Photo by Thomas Drescher

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Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier

Karren Alenier is a poet and writer. She writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. Read her blog.
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check the Archives.

©2021 Karren Alenier
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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