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Fall/Winter 06/07 Edition
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Author: Margaret A. Frey
Location: Smoky Mountains, USA

Margaret A. Frey writes from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Her work has appeared in Notre Dame Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Mindprints Literary Journal, Writer's Digest, Cezanne's Carrot, Smokelong Quarterly, Skirt, and elsewhere. Margaret lives with her husband, John, and her canine literary critic Ruffian.

Sounds from a September Morning

I try imagining that sound, the awful roar when girders gave way, melted like spent candles, when the sky rained with paper and human bodies, when concrete slabs and flesh tumbled, mingled in a choking compound of white ash. I heard the TV audio, the rumble punctuated by screams, but I was 900 miles away, standing in my Tennessee kitchen, unable to sit down or hang up the phone, though the line had been disconnected with not even a beeping whine.

The scene was repeated, televised ad nauseam. By now, you’d think I’d be able to conjure up a sense of it, nail a parallel experience: a mountain collapsing, a tidal wave roiling, a massive snow bank giving way. But nothing from nature brings me to the scene with eyes locked and disbelieving, the sound triggering the instinct to flee.

This is what I remember: my son’s call from Philadelphia cut off in mid-sentence, a newscaster’s voice breaking with emotion, and a mourning dove coo-cooing outside. Hearing is the last sense to go, the experts say. Of course, that begs the question: how would they know?

Manhattanites are experts now. Residents of Washington and Shanksville, too. But there are other witnesses, in London, Madrid, Nairobi, Istanbul, and Mumbai.

So many ears. So much hearing. Can anyone describe a sound that starts with a morning prayer and ends with a roar heard round the world? Can anyone capture the rising timbre, hold it, contain it, bring it to heel like a vicious dog to save the neighborhood and the animal, too?

Perhaps I ask the wrong questions. Still, I strain to hear and understand.

Five years later, violins play softly at ground zero. The sky is clear, a September blue. Survivors, expressions surprisingly strong and resolute, stand at a podium and look into the camera. And then, they do the only thing they can:

Heads bowed, they read the names of the dead.

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