September 11, 2001
The sea comes into view in the morning light
The brown swell calm today, the distant blue,
metallic against salt-white sky. The promise
of a game of tennis with a new friend,
she relaxes in his car as his young wife
bids them goodbye, red American scarf tied in
a bow at the top of dark curls.
The drive on this southern road is quiet, no cars
pass them; they are far from the chatter of
Margao. This is the Goa you want to fall asleep in
as the red earth delivers green, like Paradise.
They hit the ball and the young man is good enough
to keep a rally going as she pushes away her
thoughts of a wedding planned that is not hers.
She has sobbed already, more tears would be
an indulgence. The body can mourn without tears.
To come here is to live without troubles – the Jewish-Catholic
couple cook for her each evening – he is teaching photography
to young disabled soldiers who returned from the Kargil War;
she works in the nature reserve, wakes at five
to celebrate dawn with the birds,
then translates old Portuguese documents for a law firm.
They are the people you want to be,
if she wasn’t still at that age when you
think you are carrying all this promise.
When they sip their water at the end of the game
the man says, “Let me show you the river.”
She follows him, slightly disconcerted
but not sure why. Her thoughts come and go –
those of any woman, twenty-six, who
has traveled the world and knows home is a place
near an ocean, though home can be found anywhere.
The path goes downhill, on the way there are
groves of tropical trees and manicured beds
of flowering plants, not in bloom, but healthy
and succulent. Dinner last night was
a chopped salad and fried fish.
They don’t encounter a soul on this path.
The glare is sudden, white light through a clearing.
The hiss of insects. No skyscrapers.
She remembers a high school classmate. He was picked on
because of he didn’t fit in with the jocks, slightly slow,
too much accent. They only shut up in twelfth grade when he went
into the boxing ring in the quad and got badly beaten,
his bloody lip and black eye a trophy. His smile had seemed
brighter after that. He must have seen the Bay that last time
before he jumped. In South Bombay, the water is always close.
Left a note to say he was sorry, now in college, he was failing all his classes.
They barely talked about it after—
like the dead not important enough for eternity.
Through the clearing is the Sal’s beach –
the river’s reptilian skin spawns
blisters of river jellyfish at the surface.
A place deep inside her injects panic into her bloodstream,
Instinct tells her to run. “We should go,” she says, walking away from
the water, delirious with terror. “I feel sick.” She takes out her phone
deter him from coming close, call anyone.
As she goes, she thinks, don’t offend, but if you stay, he will kill you.
He doesn’t say much in the car and on the drive back
she breathes sharply at each milestone.
“Thank you so much,” she is out of the car,
door closed, safe in her room.
Still tense at dusk, on the balcony with her friends,
She does not bring up their neighbor,
they live here and she is just vacationing.
The night owl is early – guttural, raw, hissing –
like fear, it is possessive, needling. She doubts fear – shouldn’t anyone?
Fear of other, hate, rumor mills, ignorant armies
chanting God’s name in vain.
But her own fear, even if she does not like it, she trusts.
It is the why she questions. Was it this man who wished her ill,
or could it have been that this land has too much
history, is soaked in blood?
She asks: “Did anything really bad ever happen near the Sal?”
Without pause, her friend says, “Auto da fé – the Portuguese
Inquisition – thousands of Jews and the new Christian converts
burned at the stake. Started in the 1550s.
Went on for two hundred years.” Her Jewish husband says,
“You Catholics should apologize.”
“You never apologized for Jesus,” she says, and then
laughs and laughs when he grumbles,
“Bloody hell! You just won’t ever let that go!”
The phone rings a warning bell: turn on the television.
The second plane crashes into the World Trade Center.
“Carpet bomb the m*$f***s who did this,”
he says. Still staring at the screen in disbelief,
she turns her cheek to the monsoon night.
When she looks again, she sees innocent people
jumping from the inferno into their new morning.
As God’s armies stand at attention she hears this word
Paradise on both sides, as motive in the end-game,
heaven where the dead go.
·a place where, in a final act of heroism,
people run up into a burning tower to evacuate trapped strangers,
knowing their chance of survival is close to none.
·a place without fear.
·a place where we say enough killing. Here, on earth. Now.