THE CALLS

“On the day of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the poet Robert Dana called from Iowa to see how I was doing. It meant everything to hear his strong baritone voice on that harrowing day when I, like tens of thousands, fled Manhattan on foot, walking downtown, toward the smoke and fire, to reach a bridge to Brooklyn. I described the dust-covered New Yorkers–the downtown refugees–and surgeons in scrubs waiting outside Bellevue for survivors not materializing. He described contacting an old Iowa Workshop friend of his, Donald Justice, to sort through the events. There were no calls that night from my family. I trusted that my mother, though, would closely check any printed list of victims for the name of her estranged oldest child. Several days after the attack, my sister Marianna left a few words on my work voice mail. She sounded as if speaking through a pillow, half-smothered. She said she missed me. That Marianna–of them all–would be the one to call was astonishing. She was coping the worst of anyone with her difficult past. Yet she was the one to make the effort. It was all backward. It was all so strange. She did not leave a return number or say where she was. She sounded lost. She really did miss me and I missed her. What I did not miss was the family situation that had done that to her once-vibrant voice, muted it and then all but silenced it. There were alternatives. I had found one. I had my own fragile life to keep clinging to.” (p. 423, River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa)

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