Patricia McMillen

Art by Alexis Rockman

New York 2001: A Photographic Exhibit       

Months later, in Chicago, we sit on folding chairs, like in someone’s rec room, in front of a ten-inch black and white video monitor. Bits of almost silent videotape, spliced together, play over and over.  No one speaks. Only the pictures move:

     papers blowing along a sidewalk
     rows of idle Stairmasters
     an empty Starbucks
     Someone kicking at debris

This could have been the Moon: the ground with a hole, like a popped blister. Something exploded here. Something was leveled.

     an alarm bell, no one to shut it off;
     a rattle of sheet metal
     Someone calling “Hello?”

We do not cry the way we would if these were pictures of dead Vietnamese or Bosnian children.

We watch smoke rise slowly from the wound, watch dust (it is not dust) drift and settle, watch water, the living, move.

     A sign reading NYC Welcomes
     an alarm bell, a wheezing sound

No one is running. It looks like an earthquake or something. Then a boy kicks his leg forward and back under his chair. The woman sitting next to me says O My God. 

* **

#189  A handwritten sign – “They Will Get Theirs” – on top

          of a car covered in (it is not)         

          #268  A man having his eyes washed out with bottled water.         

          #84   A cemetery covered in bits of paper and (it is)   

         #373  Eggs covered in (is not)         

           #93  Oranges covered in (it is not )         

          #90  The fence around City Hall Park, outlined in drifts of (not dust), like snow.         

          #2097  An empty swimming pool. 

            #587 Scorched ledger paper         

            #5368  Shoes in a display window covered in (is not)          

            #5192  A rack of sleeveless dresses covered in (is not dust)

             #1851  The twin towers in a car rear view mirror.

* * *

Standing on a Chicago sidewalk, a woman studies an aerial view of Lower Manhattan.  “There are worse disasters,” she says. “Earthquakes in Afghanistan. Still,” she says, “Man is the worst person for themselves. My mother always said so. It’s not the earth that’s so bad,” she says. “It’s the people.”

* * *

Notes: Numbered references are to still photographs in “Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs”, a traveling exhibit of video and still photography concerning the destruction of the World Trade Centers in New York City on September 11, 2001. 

Adam Names the Stars

            Listen, said the Man, while I name the stars.

            There was no moon, a night still as all Creation‑‑only, far off, the dry echo of dogs barking. Fireflies twinkled like automobile turn signals in the dark trees edging the clearing. Above them, stars glittered like bits of broken glass scattered on a baseball field, so many, so crowded, that the Woman grew dizzy looking up.

            So she looked down.

* * *

             See, he said, how they revolve around Cynosura, the nurse of Zeus: Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, punished for her pride; Andromeda, her daughter, rescued by Perseus from the sea monster Cetus.  Look, he said.  There’s Callisto, the Great Bear, searching for her lost cub. 

            And for an instant, she did see:  how the night sky was full of holes, like a wool sweater that moths had got to.

* * *           

            She thought, I don’t believe it when he says that stars are pasted to the inside surface of a huge enameled bowl bigger than the whole earth. 

            She thought, One day, sailors will know the stars the way I know the moles on his forearm. The stars won’t flutter like leaves in the wind, and I will learn to chart my way home.

            And she thought, Maybe those aren’t fireflies in the trees at all, but lost children waving tiny flashlights. And those dogs—are they coming closer?

            Just then, a chill breeze swept across her face, a cloud crossed the sky.

            And she said, Let’s get out of here. Something bad might happen.

The Gods Create Heavy Weather

God said “From this one tree you may not eat,”
then hitched His horse up for a buggy ride.
It was unseemly warm for March, the heat
had burst the blooms of Heaven’s magnolias wide,
fried Mrs. G’s jonquils, while down below,
Earth’s baseball teams sweated through training camp.
And Lo, there came a hole in the ozone,
God’s carriage wheel dipped and bent, His i-Phone

flew from His hand, and Mrs. G knew Eve
(couldn’t be Adam), oh yes, Eve had done
something extra naughty this time, like ship
her toxic e-waste offshore to be stripped
of rare earth metals by bare-naked kids.
So God said “Let there be messy weather,”
and Mrs. God said “Call it ‘Climate Change.’”
And so it was. And there came hail, and rain,

and angry birds, and earthquakes, fire and frost,
and on Opening Day, such ice and storms
Earth’s catchers could not see their mitts before
their masks. And every tender white and pink
blossom of all Earth’s fruiting trees turned black,
frost killed the fragrant heralds of Her pears
and apples, plums and apricots, Her Old
King Davids and Her Maiden Blush,
Her Pippins. Her old trees withered and died,
and everywhere on Earth the farmers cried.


Poor old god. We’re all you’ve got
and not nearly as smart
or pretty as you hoped.

Poor old god!
We’ve wrecked your best planet,
without leaving so much as a thank you note.

Poor old god. We’ve no way to repay you,
no way to remake you
even with our opposable thumbs, our billion-neuron brains.

All we can do is wish you
better luck next time,
more resilient tigers, frogs with teeth,
and put the banyan tree in charge.



Patricia McMillen is a community activist, and retired musician and lawyer, with publications in journalism, biography, fiction and poetry. Honors include an Illinois Arts Council poetry fellowship (2002), Pushcart Prize nomination (2002), Masters degree (English) from the University of Illinois at Chicago (2005), and publication in numerous journals and anthologies. Her poetry chapbook, Knife Lake Anthology, treating community effects of capital punishment, was published in 2006 by Pudding House Publications. Her first full length collection, Running Wild, is seeking a publisher. She lives in Chicago with her mini-Bernedoodle, Joebiden.

September 11 Digital Archive

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