UT English Professor’s Poetry, Prose Inspired by 9/11 Experience

 

KNOXVILLE—Marilyn Kallet, English professor and director of UT’s Creative Writing Program, was at LaGuardia Airport in New York City on the morning on September 11, 2001. She was returning to Knoxville after giving a poetry reading at an actor’s co-op in the East Village the night before.

Marilyn Kallet“I was on a plane, waiting to take off at 9:10 a.m., when the pilot announced, ‘We have just been informed that a plane has hit the World Trade Center. We are not going to be allowed to take off. Everyone must deplane now.'”

With the other passengers, she returned to the terminal and got in line to rebook the flight. Within minutes, though, airport officials announced that all airports were closed and everyone should proceed to baggage claim.

Kallet followed the masses to baggage claim and found her luggage. She got in line to make hotel reservations, but learned that most places that were accessible were already booked. To make matters worse, the airport phones were dead and all of the TV monitors had gone blank.

She went outside and joined the throng of people trying to hail a cab. Soon, the police were pushing the crowd back from the building, so a bomb squad could go in and search the airport.

“I had sixty dollars in cash and nowhere to go,” Kallet said. “I turned to a woman about my age who was traveling with her adolescent daughter and asked, ‘What are you going to do?'”

The woman told Kallet that she had managed to reserve a rental car and planned on driving to her family’s home in Brooklyn.

“Can I go with you?” Kallet asked. The woman welcomed her along, and the trio set off for the Hertz rental car office.

“Ahead of us, we could see a giant cloud of black smoke.’That’s it, that’s the World Trade Center!’ someone said,” Kallet said. “It looked as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped.”

Once in their rental car, Kallet and her new friends —Dina and her fifth-grade daughter, Tonya — started toward Brooklyn, but the roads were blocked. They decided to go to Long Island instead. When they got to the crowded ferry station at Port Jefferson on Long Island, Kallet rendezvoused with a cousin who lived nearby who took her home for the night. The next day, Kallet took a ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where more family lived and rented a car to drive back to Knoxville.

Dina and Tonya went their own way, but not before exchanging contact information with Kallet.

“Dina and her daughter have become my good friends,” Kallet said. “On one anniversary of 9/11, they sent me flowers, with a note that said, ‘Thank you for coming into our lives.'”

The author of fifteen books, including Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Kallet said she thinks poetry “best expresses the complexity of 9/11.”

This is her poem about 9/11, which she began writing in her mind as she struggled to get out of New York City that day:

 

The night before the end of innocence

the lights of Houston Street glimmered.

 

The firemen had not yet mingled with the ashes.

Now there’s Before and After,

 

stairwells, smoke,

relatives clutching photos,

 

buckets, hand over hand,

the smell of flesh.

 

Those on the highest floors had not yet

streamed into their ending,

 

unfinished, falling like love letters

they had barely begun.

 

The night before the air was shattered,

the watchmen had not begun to speak of war,

 

or revenge.

 

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

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