By Emmanuel Ortiz
On the first anniversary of 9/11 activist poet Emmanuel Ortiz released a poem that went around the world and back. It starts by asking for a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11 and then goes on to ask for moments of silence for victims of American aggression. “This is not a peace poem,/Not a poem for forgiveness./This is a justice poem,/A poem for never forgetting.” Emmanuel Ortiz’s poem is an indictment of American foreign policy and it is reposted by San Diego Free Press.
Before I begin this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.
I would also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence for all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S., and throughout the world.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence… for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence… for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result
of a 12-year U.S. embargo against the country.
…And now, the drums of war beat again.
Before I begin this poem, two months of silence… for the Blacks
under Apartheid in South Africa, where “homeland security” made
them aliens in their own country
Nine months of silence… for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete,
steel, earth and skin, and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence… for the millions of dead in Viet Nam—a people,
not a war—for those who know a thing or two about the scent of
burning fuel, their relatives bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
Two months of silence… for the decades of dead in Colombia,
whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up
and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem,
Seven days of silence… for El Salvador
A day of silence… for Nicaragua
Five days of silence… for the Guatemaltecos
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence… for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas…
1,933 miles of silence… for every desperate body
That burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the Empire’s underbelly,
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor wire and corrugated steel.
25 years of silence… for the millions of Africans who found their
graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky.
For those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees
In the south… the north… the east… the west…
There will be no dna testing or dental records to identify their remains.
100 years of silence… for the hundreds of millions of indigenous people
From this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness…
From somewhere within the pillars of power
You open your mouths to invoke a moment of our silence
And we are all left speechless,
Our tongues snatched from our mouths,
Our eyes stapled shut.
A moment of silence,
And the poets are laid to rest,
The drums disintegrate into dust.
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence…
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been.
…Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem…
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th 1973 poem for Chile.
This is a September 12th 1977 poem for Steven Biko in South Africa.
This is a September 13th 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York.
This is a September 14th 1992 poem for the people of Somalia.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground amidst the ashes of amnesia.
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told,
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 110 stories that that cnn, bbc, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
This is not a peace poem,
Not a poem for forgiveness.
This is a justice poem,
A poem for never forgetting.
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be broken glass.
And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves,
The lost languages,
The uprooted trees and histories,
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children…
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
So if you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines, the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the e-mails and instant messages
Derail the trains, ground the planes.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses
and the Playboys.
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July,
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale,
The next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
brown people have gathered.
You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it all.
But don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.
We will keep right on singing
For our dead.
Emmanuel Ortiz is a third-generation Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American activist and poet. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks, The Word Is a Machete (self-published, 2003), Brown unLike Me: Poems From the Second Layer of Our Skin (Calaca Press, 2009) and co-editor of Under What Bandera?: Anti-War Ofrendas from Minnesota y Califas (Calaca Press, 2004). He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Dorinda Moreno says
Thanks for publishing this moving poem which also I have circulated in the past and that has received many deserving accolades.
Brent Beltran says
You’re welcome, Dorinda. Any chance I get I share the work of Calaca Press poets.