Bikeman: A Poetic Reminder of What was Lost Twenty Years Ago
Twenty years ago, America faced a devastation unlike any other with the events of 9/11. In the two decades since the tragedies of that day, survivors have come forward with their stories: one such story being that of writer and broadcast producer Thomas F. Flynn. The seasoned journalist rode his bike into the center of the destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, not knowing what he was riding into. In the aftermath of the attacks, Flynn—being one of the lucky survivors—took his story and wrote Bikeman (2008), an epic poem recounting his experience from the dark day and life afterward. Modeled after Dante’s Inferno, the poem depicts Flynn’s memory from the first strike on the North Tower to the fall of the South Tower and beyond, recounting how he grappled to cope with being one of the people who survived it all.
As we come upon the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, you can look to Bikeman, Commemorative Edition (8/3/21), with its haunting pages and humbling truth, to honor those who were lost, those who survived, and the country that, on Sept. 11, 2001, was changed forever.
Nothing in my garden gives a hint of the pain,
the hurt, the deep sorrow that will manifest
in salty tears on the cheeks of neighborhoods after.
No signs foretell the darkness, heat and fear
about to descend upon us
this forever September morning.
Just ahead, beyond my flowering impatiens,
speckled brightly with life-giving sun,
beyond the sound of the
Jefferson Market Courthouse bells
ringing above life’s banal routine:
newspaper, coffee and walk-the-dog . . .
goodbye to Nancy and bicycle-to-work,
there is a journey ahead,
beyond and unforeseen.
Beyond comes fire and darkness
and destruction that might take me
from home, from friends, from this sweet earth.
XI: Tower No More
Fortuitously, my eyes trace
to the tower on my right,
to the height where the vestige
of the jet tail still hangs. I am witness
to the burly beast’s last gasp.
It is a burp of fire above,
bursting deep inside . . .
a spark, a flash, nothing great.
Then comes a small explosion,
firecrackers at a Chinatown parade.
A low rumbling roar begins
to attack my ears. This time
I am alert to it unlike earlier
when the tortured engines screamed
at the treetops on their wretched flight.
Now my eyes bore into that sound instantly,
so great, so vivid, so tactile is my awareness
of all that surrounds me.
XXXVIII: Rest In Peace
Amid a chorus of wailing eulogy,
the survivors move away.
I move with the living
yet I carry the dead,
carry them on a funeral march
beyond this September morning,
this forever September morning.
The dead from here
are my forever companions.
I am their pine box,
their marble reliquary,
their bronze urn,
the living, breathing coffin they never had,
their final resting place without a stone.
I move on at peace.
That “Forever September morning,” as Flynn puts it, will forever be an unforgettable and irreversible moment in history. These three excerpts from Bikeman only begin to grasp the devastation and grief caused by the events of 9/11—but stories like Flynn’s remind us why we must stand together in solidarity each year for the ones who have been taken and to the ones who still carry the weight of surviving the attacks.