Open Mic Friday! featuring Jenn Zahrt

Happy Friday, dear friends, and welcome to the Open Mic!

I’m so glad to introduce you to Jenn Zahrt, a friend I met randomly and circuitously two years ago because we both had shops on Etsy. Jenn contacted me yesterday with a piece she’d written unexpectedly, her senses putting forth indelible memories of a decade ago. It’s my honor to share her words with you today.


The Night Before, Jenn Zahrt

September 10, 2001 at NYU:

Before bed, I read E. B. White, “Here is New York,” published in 1949, for my writing seminar the next day:

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 sounds of the jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

September 11, 2001:

I wake up to the sound of a very low flying plane, familiar to me from my childhood spent on military bases, but obviously weird in Manhattan. I turn to my roommate, Emily Dufton, and say, recalling E. B. White’s essay in my mind, “This place could blow any minute.”

The phone rings. It’s my mom, telling me to turn on the TV because a plane just hit the World Trade Center. We watch real time as the second plane hits the south tower.

Outside my dorm, a mile away from the towers, I see the smoke billowing in the sky. Everyone on my floor gets ready to go to St. Vincent’s to donate blood. They don’t need us. Some of us walk to the next hospital to see if they need us. We join the streams of people flooding the barren streets. The sky is a crystal clear blue, except for the smoke at the end of the island. The birds soar, relishing the perfect fall weather, as if it’s just another Tuesday morning in Manhattan. The only vehicles are emergency vehicles headed in one direction. When the towers start to fall, the entire city stops breathing, cries out, gasps, anguish. Bulldozers join the ambulances.

On my way back to my dorm, at around three in the afternoon, Broadway is nearly entirely devoid of people and all vehicles. I sit down in the middle of the street and place my body across the lanes. I look north and south, eyes level with the rippled pavement, fully splayed out, knowing that this will be the only time in my life that I’ll ever see Broadway that empty, like this. I spend about five minutes just lying there, taking it in. I get up just before a bulldozer barrels toward the newly christened Ground Zero.

The debris from the towers permeates everything. The smell isn’t content to respect the barriers of the buildings. It coats my room. Ashy, gassy, thick, unavoidable. I recoil at the thought that I might be breathing in particles of those cremated in the destruction. I spend the next days breathing through a green wool scarf that my parents bought in Scotland. I’ve never washed it. And even that November, standing on a rooftop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I detected the smell of Ground Zero, wafting toward me in a fragile tendril, surreal like in a Warner Brothers cartoon, surreal like the weather that Tuesday morning. Surreal like reading E. B. White’s 1949 essay the night before his fears became reality.


Jenn Zahrt self-portrait, November 2001

Jenn Zahrt self-portrait, November 2001

Jenn Zahrt lives in Berkeley, California.

Thank you, Jenn, for sharing with us.
The comments are open. See you there!


9 responses to “Open Mic Friday! featuring Jenn Zahrt

  1. I think that this is just an amazing story. Am wondering what you make of that foretelling 10 years later. Thank you so much for sharing. It is people like you that experienced it firsthand that I will be thinking of over the next few days.

  2. I’m in awe just reading this. As a New Yorker myself it brings back a sickening feeling remembering that day. What an eerie feeling reading EB White’s “Here is New York” the day before 9/11.

    We’ve come so far together since this devastating event 10 years ago but we still have far to go. It is a time for healing and compassion not for just those who were immediately effected but for all of us.

    Thank you so much for sharing this :)!

  3. Jenn presents a poignant remembrance of that day. Tears came to my eyes when reading that experience and remembering that day and all who were brave. As an old teacher and friend of hers, I feel deeply of her emotional state and recollections on that day. Thank you, Jen.

  4. I was in shock here in Chicago when this happened, knowing from the news, but not really knowing as you and so many others did. Thank you for sharing this personal and very eloquent remembrance with us.

  5. Thanks everyone, for reading, for connecting. Kim, I don’t read anything into the uncanny foreshadowing of the events of that day. Other similar moments of foreknowledge have happened in my life. Moments like that are all around us if we open ourselves up to noticing them. Thanks Lisa for allowing me to share. I hope that everyone had a relaxing day of remembering, reflection, and connecting with loved ones.

  6. Thank you, Jenn, for writing this. And Lisa, for sharing. I was living and working in NYC during that time and I, too, spent that day and ensuing year living with that “new normal,” as they kept calling it. Tho “normal” is definitely not what I would term it. This autumn, I returned to the East Coast as a resident, across the Hudson this time, just on the banks of the river, facing the in-progress Freedom Tower and an empty sky where imprints of memory still view those Twin Towers standing sentinel. I spent yesterday in Liberty State Park, on a bench with my eyes toward that memory, listening to the 10th anniversary ceremony all morning starting at 8:30am, live on WNYC radio, recalling with all others the almost 3,000 names that were attached to the faces of the missing flyers I’ll never forget, observing six moments of silence (4 planes crashing + 2 buildings falling) followed by ringing church bells across the land, and in my solitary reflection as tidal waters crashed against the rocks below me and the LSP Empty Sky Memorial loomed elegant behind me, I joined in solidarity with all others who spent that day remembering, recalling, and resurrecting the dead so we can remind ourselves to always live.

    I recently drafted a poem about that day that it took me almost a decade to put down. I’m not a true poet — prose being my expression of choice and inclination — but as a post-mortem to yesterday, I just wanted to share it here, inspired by your initial sharing. Thanks again, for your words. And in that spirit of generosity and reflection, here are mine.


    At 9:01 glancing,
    VCR clock showing
    how late I was going to be.
    G subway transfer, to the 7 from Brooklyn
    to Queens, my shroud, a rush-hour fog.
    Maybe, I might have seen but
    I never look first thing, only
    gaze at the skyline near twilight.
    Mornings, I never spare a glance–
    just clouds, silver-gray, dark
    billows against stark, blue sky.

    Manhattan from subway emerging
    Sky above, pretty and clear.
    Corner of 42nd and 2nd
    the usual garden entrance.
    Small sign announces: Closed.
    ‘Round back toward main on 43rd.
    Police cordon off sidewalk. Two
    young women run and cop yells:
    “What are you doing?! Get
    the fuck back!” They gesture: “But
    there’s people…” and he hollers:
    “We are evacuating!”

    I climb four flights of stairs and ask:
    “What the hell is going on
    outside?” The Admin tells me:
    “Go to the Director’s office.”
    The World Trade Center, burning
    on TV. Beneath them, scrolling
    headlines on digital blue: “Hijacked
    planes hit Twin Towers. President
    Bush says “apparent terrorist attack.”

    I call the West Coast, my sister first,
    cannot get through. My Dad, next,
    waking him with the news, saying
    “the U. N. got hit” (I was confused).
    Pentagon hit too.
    “Turn on the TV,” I said.
    “And let the others know.”

    The Admin says: “Oh My God!”
    I ask: “What happened?”
    One Tower-gone.
    Never believed those buildings
    could ever come down.
    “Just one,” I whisper. ” Please?
    Can we have just one, at least?”
    The Admin starts to cry. I
    take her hand, tell her: ” Put
    the phones on voicemail.” She
    says: “Someone has to answer them.”

    Second Tower down. Plane burns
    a field in Pennsylvania.

    Soon, Grand Central Station, closed.
    People covered in gray ash, wandering
    listless. Some had blood on them. Not
    theirs. One Indian man told us: “A plane
    hit us.” Nodding, we said, “We know.”
    He said, “I’m trying to get home.”
    Another woman–maybe Filipina?–
    cloaked in soot, asks for water.
    Silver zombies intermingle amongst us.
    Or rather, we, amongst them.

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