ALL ARTS Vault Selects


In Our City: New Yorkers Remember September 11th

In this 2001 film from the WNET archive, celebrities and ordinary New Yorkers use art to process the September 11th attacks. Some recite poetry that they wrote about the day, and others read classic works from literary luminaries like W.H. Auden, E.B. White, Jane Kenyon and Walt Whitman.

AIRED: September 08, 2019 | 0:43:08

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Cronkite: What do we mean by patriotism

in the context of our times?

I venture to suggest that what we mean

is a sense of national responsibility,

which will enable America to remain master of her power,

to walk with it in serenity and wisdom with self-respect

and the respect of all mankind,

a patriotism that puts country ahead of self,

a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion

but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.

"The dedication of a lifetime" --

these are words that are easy to utter,

but this is a mighty assignment, for it is often easier

to fight for principles than to live up to them.

Men who have offered their lives for their country

know that it is not the fear of something

but the love of something.

I say to you now that there is work to be done,

that the difficulties and dangers

that beset our path at home and abroad are incalculable.

There is sweat and sacrifice.

There is much of patient

and quiet persistence in our horoscope,

but we are embarked on a great adventure.

Let us proclaim our faith in the future of man.


Hello, I'm Walter Cronkite.

That 1950s speech by Adlai Stevenson

seems remarkably right for our times.

We all know New Yorkers are a special breed.

The program you're about to see is their response

to the tragic events of September 11th.

What we've experienced and are continuing to experience

has brought out the most resilient

and courageous aspects of ourselves.

What we have in common is a deeply felt need to turn

to one another for hope and warmth.

Here are poems and ideas by famous writers,

read by famous New Yorkers,

actors and everyday people reading their own work.

All volunteered their time and talent.

The taping of this program took place on location

at Dia Center for the Arts,

the contemporary art museum in Chelsea,

and we thank Dia for its hospitality

and for helping us in this outreach.

Now, in our city, New Yorkers remember September 11th.

[ Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin's "Coyote" plays ]

[ Vocalizing ]


I chose this poem

because I think it's a very powerful, very personal poem.

It's about a funeral.

It's about the world never being the same again

after you've lost someone who is your whole world,

and I think New York is feeling a lot of grief and loss now.

And somehow, these words written in 1936 by Auden

are very appropriate.

Stop all the clocks.

Cut off the telephone.

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead,

scribbling on the sky the message, "He is dead."

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves.

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my north, my south, my east, and west.

My working week and my Sunday rest.

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.

I thought that love would last forever.

I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one.

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,

for nothing now can ever come to any good.

The world has been visited with greater disasters

than what happened at the Twin Towers

on September the 11th, and people have recovered.

And there's nothing for us but to recover.

That's the only alternative we have, that we have,

and if we don't recover,

we're doomed to this alternative.

I think we go on.

I think that it's a very vital city, and we love life.


New York is one of man's greatest achievements.

It is the best-known city on Earth.

It is the wealthiest city of modern times.

Its influence is felt in every corner of this planet.

It is the world's greatest cultural and creative force.

It has the world's largest educational system.

It's the greatest tourist attraction in the world.

It's the biggest and busiest manufacturing city in the world.

Robert F. Wagner once saying that New Yorkers make more,

sell more, buy more, eat more, and enjoy more

than the citizens of any other city in the world.

It's the financial capital of the world.

It's the headquarters for most

of the biggest corporations in existence.

It is the communications capital of the world.

It's the entertainment capital of the world.

It has more churches than any other city in the world.

Its government is the largest in the United States

except for the federal government.

Its police force is larger

than the standing armies of many foreign nations.

Its subway system is the most heavily traveled

passenger railroad in the world.

Its harbor is bigger than the world's next six largest harbors

put together.

Because of its size, New York is like a gigantic magnifying glass

that enlarges human emotions and behavior.

Depending on the viewer and his attitudes

and what he wants to see, New York is evil or benign,

steeped in ignorance or mellow with wisdom.

To the gregarious, it offers companionship,

and on the shy, it bestows isolation

almost as absolute as that of the desert or the ocean.

Because newspapers and television focus on the unusual

and the bizarre,

good people living quiet lives seldom get into the news.

Hoodlums terrorize the subways, but serenity may be found

by sitting on a bench behind Grant's Tomb

and gazing up at the Hudson

at a riverscape so majestic that it hushes the heart.

Dope addicts steal goods to sustain their habit,

but at sundown, the claret-stained facade

of the Empire State Building looks like Mount Everest

seen through rose-colored glasses.

Police sirens chill the spine,

but from a helicopter on a clear night,

the city's lights resemble diamonds

scattered upon black velvet.

Voodoo rituals are held in secret cellars,

but Fifth Avenue is promenaded by women

so beautiful and elegant

that they look like Aphrodites in buttons and bows.

Down through the years,

people have been attracted to and repelled by New York.

Too huge and powerful to be ignored,

the city stirs extreme opinions.

Here are some of them.

New York is simply a distillation

of the entire United States, the most of everything,

the conclusive proof

that there is an American civilization.

New York is casual, intellectual,

subtle, effective, and devastatingly witty,

but her sophisticated appearance is the thinnest of veneers.

Beneath it, there is power, virility, determination,

and a sense of destiny.

The plain fact of the matter

is that New York is much too good for New Yorkers.

If the planet grows cold, this city will nevertheless

have been mankind's warmest moment.


The poem I'm going to read by David Lehman was written

by David after the bombing of the World Trade Center

in February of 1993.

He talks about a change in feeling about the buildings,

and I'm glad to read it because I feel the same way.

I never liked the World Trade Center.

When it went up, I talked it down,

as did many other New Yorkers.

The twin towers were ugly monoliths

that lacked the details,

the ornament, the character of the Empire State Building

and especially the Chrysler Building,

everyone's favorite, with its scalloped top so noble.

The World Trade Center was an example

of what was wrong with American architecture,

and it stayed that way for 25 years

until that Friday afternoon in February when the bomb went off

and the buildings became a great symbol of America

like the Statue Of Liberty

at the end of Hitchcock's "Saboteur."

My whole attitude toward the World Trade Center

changed overnight.

I began to like the way it comes into view

as you reach Sixth Avenue from any side street,

the way the tops of the towers dissolve into white skies

in the east when you cross the Hudson into the city

across the George Washington Bridge.

Well, it was a regular day for me.

I got to work 8:00,

and I was just talking to a coworker

who had just came back from vacation.

And we felt the impact, and we started to shake.

And we grabbed each other, and she said, "What do we do?"

And I said, "Let's grab our belongings and run."

Someone showed us the stairways, and we headed down them.

And that's how come I wrote the poem.

It's real, so this poem is not falsified or anything.

This was real.

From the moment I felt the impact, I knew I had to act.

"Grab your belongings, and let's go," I said.

I grabbed my extinguisher and flashlight in case

I needed to heighten our sight.

Blocked stairways and smoke delayed our escape once more,

but God gave me the courage to go behind closed doors,

being able to make two telephone calls

just to inform my family that I was trapped in this building,

surrounded by glass walls.

At the voice of a coworker, "A staircase is free,"

I took charge and started to flee.

In the midst of devastation and fright,

I saw a coworker that needed to make it down 88 flights.

I grabbed her sweater wrapped around her burnt body

and headed straight towards the lobby.

My life was right in front of me,

but that didn't matter.

I took charge.

Someone who needed me,

I knew she was a fighter from the 88th floor

because we talked all the way to the corridor.

We made it downstairs in less than 15 minutes.

There were even times when her sweater was falling.

I couldn't even stop to pin it.

I knew we didn't come this far to quit.

My coworker is a fighter, and we must not forget it.

We all talked about destiny, fate, luck,

and being at the wrong place at the wrong time,

but September 11th was none of the above.

It was the love of God that gave me the strength,

the love of another human being, the courage not to break down

and the determination to see my family once more.

What I remember most about September 11th

is watching the towers crash on TV

and sitting in class and, like, getting the announcement

that said the World Trade tower has crashed

and they're not there anymore.

The poem isn't really meant to tell anyone

to think anything or feel anything.

It really can be interpreted any way.

Basically, it's just about different reactions

from different people in my grade.

In the moment, fear, sharp and swift.

Hope, please be unreal.

Confusion, what is next?

This is what was felt throughout.

Hush took over.

"Where are you going tonight? Are your parents okay?

You better call your parents. They work in NYC."

All just whispers between the silence,

teachers trying to comfort students

needing comforting themselves.

Students' fright.

Everyone is trying to reached loved ones.

You can feel it in the air.

Fear, paralyzing.

Some cry, some try to hide it,

some try to ignore it, some are trying to understand,

but how can we understand a crime of such hate?

Everyone is trying to deal.

What will be?

I chose Auden's "September 1st, 1939" poem

because I thought it represented a moment in history

where people were concerned about their future,

troubled by the onslaught of a foreign nation

and had to reflect deeply on who they were

and what they were about and yet took great comfort

and resolve from an ultimate mission.

Poets have an unique ability to capture a moment in time

and make us be hopeful about the future.

I sit in one of the dives on 52nd Street

uncertain and afraid

as the clever hopes expire of a low, dishonest decade

Waves of anger and fear circulate over the bright

and darkened lands of the Earth.

Obsessing our private lives,

the unmentionable odor of death offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can unearth the whole offence

from Luther until now that has driven a culture mad.

Find what occurred at Linz, what huge imago made,

a psychopathic god.

I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn --

those to whom evil is done do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew all that a speech can say

about democracy and what dictators do,

the elderly rubbish they talk to an apathetic grave,

analysed all in his book, the enlightenment driven away.

The habit-forming pain, mismanagement and grief,

we must suffer them all again into this neutral air,

where blind skyscrapers use their full height to proclaim

the strength of collective man.

Each language pours its vain, competitive excuse,

but who can live for long in an euphoric dream?

Out of the mirror they stare imperialism's face

and the international wrong.

Faces along the bar cling to their average day.

The lights must never go out, the music must always play.

All the conventions conspire to make this fort assume

the furniture of home, lest we should see where we are,

lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night

who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash important persons shout

is not so crude as our wish.

What mad Nijinsky wrote

about Diaghilev is true of the normal heart,

for the error bred in the bone of each woman and each man

craves what it cannot have, not universal love,

but to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark into the ethical life,

the dense commuters come, repeating their morning vow,

"I will be true to the wife.

I'll concentrate more on my work,"

and helpless governors wake to resume their compulsory game.

Who can release them now?

Who can reach the deaf?

Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice to undo the folded lie,

the romantic lie in the brain of the sensual man in the street

and the lie of authority whose buildings grope the sky.

There is no such thing as the state

and no one exists alone.

Hunger allows no choice to the citizen or the police.

We must love one another or die defenceless under the night.

Our world in stupor lies, yet, dotted everywhere

ironic points of light

flash out wherever the just exchange their messages.

May I, composed like them of Eros and of dust,

beleaguered by the same negation and despair,

show an affirming flame.


It's difficult in times like these.

Ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes

rise within us only to be crushed by grim reality.

It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals.

They seem so absurd and impractical.

Yet I cling to them because I still believe,

in spite of everything,

that people are truly good at heart.

It's utterly impossible for me to build my life

on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death.

I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness.

I hear the approaching thunder that, one day,

will destroy us, too.

I feel the suffering of millions,

and yet, when I look up at the sky,

I somehow feel that everything will change for the better,

that this cruelty, too, shall end,

that peace and tranquility will return once more.

In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.

Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them.

When something like this happens, which is unimaginable

and it's beyond human comprehension,

I think art, in this case, poetry,

helps us transcend the horror.

New York is a city of many languages,

so I wrote my poem in Spanish and translated it into English,

so I will read both versions.

"The Loss of Innocence."

Words cannot evoke a land stripped of metaphors.

Our eyes are slit,

so is our mouth, our smile.

Our soul is hollow, crushed many times

beneath the iron that was iron in the rubble.

What is to become of all the hours and the days?

The centuries of longing.

The joy.

The scalloped rooftops heralding the city's light

like an eternal blossom.

Why this forced departure?

Why this mirror that blurs our former self?

Why this beast, this sinister, relentless echo

denying in vain that we are who we are?

That we love this city of fairy tales,

her free exuberance,

her essence of a bird or of a squirrel.

That we love her fiercely,

filled with poets and green parks,

and wandering violins.

That we love her forever, and even more this very instant

when the sun shrinks away, wounded,

and a dark plume spreads a subtle plague over the grass.

"The Loss of Innocence."

Words cannot evoke a land stripped of metaphors.

Our eyes are slit, so is our mouth, our smile.

Our soul is hollow, crushed many times beneath the iron

that was ironed in the rubble.

What is to become of all the hours and the days,

the centuries of longing, the joy,

the scalloped rooftops,

heralding the city's light like an eternal blossom?

Why this forced departure?

Why this mirror that blurs our former self?

Why this beast, this sinister, relentless echo

denying in vain that we are who we are?

That we love this city of fairy tales,

her free exuberance, her essence of a bird or of a squirrel,

that we love her fiercely,

filled with poets and green parks and wandering violins,

that we love her forever

and even more this very instant when the sun shrinks away,

wounded, and a dark plume spreads

a subtle plague over the grass.

The poem that I'm about to read

is one that attracted me first because it's inspirational.

It deals with a daily occurrence in life

but something that is somewhat negative,

and it shows that we have to move on from that,

accept it, and go on and deal with life

in a very positive way.


Let the light of late afternoon shine through chinks in the barn

moving up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn.

Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass.

Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down.

Let the shed go black inside.

Let evening come

to the bottles in the ditch, to the scoop in the oats,

to the air in the lung, let evening come.

Let it come as it will, and don't be afraid.

God does not leave us comfortless.

So let evening come.


I decided to write this poem for the people

who were shooken up by the World Trade Center

and to make them feel a little bit better.

I decided to write this poem because what happened

to the World Trade Center was very terrible,

and a lot of people lost their lives.

So we just wanted to send our prayers to them.


Nice, beautiful day.

Calm, relaxed, and gentle.

People running for their lives through the rubble,

looking for God to help them out.

Do you know who I am?

Let me ask this question.

Do you know who you are?

If you don't, get help.

I'm thinking, "My God, please help us

US citizens out through the huge tragedy that has happened."

Will our city be the same?

I don't think so.

Will New York disappear?

Or will there still be tourists visiting our city?

I don't think so.

Why are other countries hating on us?

Are they mad because the US is always getting

into other countries' business?

Will America be united more than ever?

I don't think so.

Many people were shocked on that tragic day

as the two World Trade Centers collapsed in front of our eyes,

two skyscrapers that's famous around the world

will no longer be seen ever again.

Many people lost their lives.

Many are still missing.

Families are in pain and grief.

We give blood for the victims.

We donate money for the families and give tribute to the heroes.

We will never forget that painful day,

September 11, 2001.

We are now mourning for the victims, and their families

and trying to move on with our lives.

America, America, united we stand.

God bless America.

I remember watching the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald

talking about all the people who worked for him who had died,

and I cried.

I sat there watching the television and crying.

It's hard and probably seems not only incongruous

but questionable to think about Harpo Marx

and the events of September 11th at the same time,

but we have always had crazy,

funny people to help us through hard times.

I found out in the summer of 1903

how to watch the Giants play for free.

That was the only sure way to beat the heat in New York.

When John J. McGraw and his noble warriors

took the field in the Polo Grounds,

all the pains and complaints of the loyal fan faded away,

and he sweltered in blissful contentment.

I was a loyal fan, but I could never afford

the price of admission to the Polo Grounds.

Then I discovered a spot on Coogan's Bluff,

a high promontory behind the Polo Grounds

from which there was a clear view of the ballpark.

Well, a clear view, yes,

but clear only of the outside wall of the grandstand,

a section of the bleachers, and one narrow,

tantalizing wedge of the playing field.

So, to tell the truth, I didn't really watchthe Giants.

I watcheda Giant, the left fielder.

When the ball came looping or bounding

into my corner of the field,

I saw real-life, big-league baseball.

The rest of the time, which was most of the time,

I watched a tiny man in a white or gray uniform

standing motionless on a faraway patch of grass.

Other kids collected pictures of Giants such as McGraw,

McGinnity, and Mathewson -- not me.

I was forever faithful to Sam Mertes,

undistinguished left fielder,

the only New York Giant I ever saw play baseball.

My heart was with the guy

who was given the fewest chances to take,

the guy whose hope and patience never dimmed.

Sam Mertes, I salute you.

In whatever Valhalla you're playing now,

I pray that only right-handed pull hitters come to bat

and the ball comes sailing your way three times in every inning.

People have been saying that on September 11th,

all Americans became New Yorkers,

and I think it's true.

And even while we feel grief deeply

and lots of other emotions simultaneously,

I think it's good to remember to celebrate New York

and why we care at all.

The streets are melting into promises

and recreating themselves out of glass and ice,

out of glints of ancient sediments and fumes of asphalt.

Their music is the eruption of footsteps,

the ringing of coins,

the thrum of black tar, grey chips, and brown fissures,

the cracking and breaking of things as they are.

Underneath, deep, deep beneath reason,

where the heart is a cast of thousands all lost, all moving,

rivers of possibility shift back and forth under lamplight,

and hope is a spectator with a certain amount to trade.

Bet on the days to come.

Racehorses flush with promise, sure-footed, untried,

they kick and fuss at the gate of the new year,

the dark-blue ribbons of their manes flying out behind them

like the ice-blue streets themselves.

I can see the most beautiful off in the distance

of white buildings and glazed water towers

carrying nothing on its back, barely touching the ground,

and I say to it what I always say to the future,

"Begin again. Begin again."

People don't ordinarily ask me to give messages of hope,

and they're right.

[ Laughter ]

I chose "Here Is New York" by E.B. White

first of all because it's E.B. White,

second because it's New York,

but primarily in this context, because of this piece being

so terrifyingly germane to the present situation,

which proves that writing is the most important thing

because it lasts the longest.

The subtlest change in New York

is something people don't speak much about

but that is in everyone's mind.

The city, for the first time in its long history,

is destructible.

A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese

can quickly end this island fantasy,

burn the towers, crumble the bridges,

turn the underground passages into lethal chambers,

cremate the millions.

The intimation of mortality is part of New York now

in the sound of jets overhead,

in the black headlines of the latest edition.

All dwellers in cities must live

with the stubborn fact of annihilation.

In New York, the fact is somewhat more concentrated

because of the concentration of the city itself,

and because of all targets,

New York has a certain clear priority.

In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer

might loose the lightning,

New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.

It used to be that the Statue of Liberty

was a signpost that proclaimed New York

and translated it for all the world.

Today, Liberty shares the role with death.

Along the East River from the razed

slaughterhouses of Turtle Bay as though on a race

with a spectral flight of planes,

men are carving out the permanent headquarters

of the United Nations,

the greatest housing project of them all.

In its stride, New York takes on one more interior city

to shelter, this time, all governments

and to clear the slum called war.

New York is not a capital city.

It is not a national capital or a state capital,

but it is by way of becoming the capital of the world.

The buildings as conceived by architects

will be cigar boxes set on end.

Traffic will flow in a new tunnel under First Avenue.

47th Street will be widened, and if my guess is any good,

trucks will appear late at night

to plant tall trees surreptitiously,

their roots to mingle with the intestines of the town.

Once again, the city will absorb,

almost without showing any sign of it,

a congress of visitors.

It has already shown itself capable of stashing away

the United Nations.

A great many of the delegates have been around town

during the past couple of years,

and the citizenry has hardly caught

a glimpse of their coattails or their black Homburgs.

This race, this race between the destroying planes

and the struggling parliament of man,

it sticks in all our heads.

This city, at last, perfectly illustrates

both the universal dilemma and the general solution.

This riddle, in steel and stone, is at once the perfect target

and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence,

of racial brotherhood,

this lofty target scraping the skies

and meeting the destroying planes halfway,

home of all people and all nations,

capital of everything, housing the deliberations

by which the planes are to be stayed

and their errand forestalled.

A block or two west of the new city of man in Turtle Bay,

there is an old willow tree

that presides over an interior garden.

It is a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed,

held together by strands of wire

but beloved of those who know it.

In a way, it symbolizes the city,

life under difficulties, growth against odds,

sap-rise in the midst of concrete

and the steady reaching for the sun.

Whenever I look at it nowadays

and feel the cold shadow of the planes, I think,

"This must be saved, this particular thing,

this very tree."

If it were to go, all would go.

This city, this mischievous and marvelous monument

which not to look upon would be like death.

Kennedy: Walt Whitman celebrated New York,

and he celebrated the diversity that America stands for

in so many of his poems, and I think that this one

is really one of his greatest poems.

Well, I think all great poems have a timeless quality,

and his energy

and the joy that he brought to the celebration of America

and New York I think really captures our spirit.

I hear America singing.

The varied carols I hear.

Those of mechanics,

each one singing his as it should be, blithe and strong,

the carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

the mason singing his as he makes ready for work

or leaves off work,

the boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat,

the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

the shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench,

the hatter singing as he stands, the woodcutter's song,

the ploughboy's on his way in the morning

or at noon intermission or at sundown,

the delicious singing of the mother

or of the young wife at work

or of the girl sewing or washing,

each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

the day what belongs to the day.

At night, the party of young fellows, robust and friendly,

singing with open mouths their strong, melodious songs.

After what happened with September 11th,

it really was, like, a horrible tragedy,

so I decided to write how I felt about what happened.

I wrote about a lion because it shows strength

and honor of the United States and that we are together.

I am as strong as lion and as soft as silk.

I wonder why the world is not a peaceful place.

I hear the birds chirp.

I see the lions roar.

I want the world to be a better place.

I am as strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I pretend that I am asleep when I am scared.

I feel the cool breeze flow through my hair.

I touch the warmth of the sun.

I worry that terrible things will go on.

I cry when bad things happen.

I am strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I say I am an athlete.

I dream I am an athlete.

I try to make my family's life better.

I hope I can make a difference in this world.

I am as strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I am as strong as lion and as soft as silk.

I wonder why the world is not a peaceful place.

I hear the birds chirp.

I see the lions roar.

I want the world to be a better place.

I am as strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I pretend that I am asleep when I am scared.

I feel the cool breeze flow through my hair.

I touch the warmth of the sun.

I worry that terrible things will go on.

I cry when bad things happen.

I am strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I say I am an athlete.

I dream I am an athlete.

I try to make my family's life better.

I hope I can make a difference in this world.

I am as strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I am strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

I say I am an athlete.

I dream I am an athlete.

I try to make my family's life better.

I hope I can make a difference in this world.

I am as strong as a lion and as soft as silk.

[ Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin's "Coyote" plays ]

[ Vocalizing ]



  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv