I Read Ginsberg on 9/11

Burning for the ancient heavenly connection.

I was still asleep when the planes hit.

I was still in college, a few hours’ drive from Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon. I didn’t have any classes until that afternoon, so I had no reason to be up early.

I eventually wandered out of my room toward the showers. I remember thinking it was strange that so many doors were open in the dormitory hallway and that so many people had their TVs on — and apparently turned to news channels.

I understood as soon as I got back to my room and turned on my TV.

Like everybody else, I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t comprehend the gravity yet — I wasn’t even sure how this attack changed anything. All I knew was that I still had to finish my reading for my poetry class that afternoon.

I lugged my anthology outside and sat under a tree. I turned to Allen Ginsberg:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness …

That opening line from “Howl” permanently seared itself into my brain, forever associated with the senseless destruction of that day.

For a long time, I thought it was just that first line that fit — that I had deliberately taken it out of context to make it apply to the destruction I was still trying to comprehend. Reading far enough into the poem, it’s obvious it has more to do with drugs and art and self-destruction; not terrorists, Twin Towers and holy wars.

But now that I look at it again, five years later, I wonder if I was onto something deeper. I’m still haunted the poem’s first few lines and their description of madness, hysteria, “an angry fix,” people “burning for the ancient heavenly connection.” As the wars still drag on, those first few lines seem more and more frighteningly literal in describing both the Jihadists and the American Crusaders.

I wonder how many more of us will destroy our own minds with this kind of madness before we’re done.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night …

Article © 2006 by Michael Duck