By Emmanuel Ortiz
This poem was written and published in 2004 in an anthology chapbook by Calaca Press called ¿Under What Bandera? on the first anniversary of the second Iraq war. Press the play button to hear the author read the poem as you read along.
Ever since the war started,
One year ago today,
I have wanted to write an anti-war poem.
For each of the last 365 days
I have been trying to write
To voice my opinion
In opposition to this war.
But nothing has come out.
After five days of watching
And not watching
Bombs fall on Iraq
I thought I had it
When some white boy
During a soccer game
Told me to “go back to Baghdad”
And as my fists found his temples
In retaliation for the bombs that were obliterating theirs
I remember thinking to myself
Amidst the slow-motion home-movie haze
“This will make a great poem”
A poem about
How he mistook
Mesoamerica for Mesopotamia
Borinken for Babylon.
And why Baghdad
Instead of Brasilia, Beijing, Beirut, Bogotá, Bombay,
Even Bi-racialville U.S.A.
I swear I was gonna write a poem about that white boy
About how his words were acts of errorism
Missing their marks
Leaving brown bodies burning
Turning soccer fields into battlefields
Turning mosques and marketplaces into burial grounds
I wanted to write that poem
Testimony to our bodies
How they have always been battlefields
And burial grounds.
I wanted to tell that white boy off
In a poem
Go back to Nazi Germany
Go back to Imperialist Britain
Go back to Hollywood
Go back to the Oval Office
Go back across the Mason-Dixie line
Go back to Oklahoma City
Go back to Jasper, Texas
Go back to the suburbs
Go back into every red-white and blue-blooded American home
Crawl back inside the weapon of mass distraction
That is the centerpiece of your living room
Back into the studios of CNN
You can go anywhere you want to, Mr. All-American White Boy
As long as you go
Because where else do you go
When you’ve reached the top of the world?
Damn, I wanted to write that poem.
But I never did.
Crisscrossing the country
Wrote and read other poems.
I think I wrote a poem for my brother
Who has never seen the island that gave birth to our grandmother
Wrote one for a lover
Who I lost to another
But no poems against war.
I played soccer
And video games
Watched the Super Bowl
Skipped the halftime show
But wrote no poems against the war
But I swear to you
I wanted to
Been meaning to
Write that anti-war poem
Even had deadlines
But then Haiti made headlines
And that war hit close to my ancestral home again
My heart was a hurricane
And I felt a need to start over again
Searching for the right words to say
As a grandchild of Borinken
To the people of neighboring Ayiti
To the heirs of Caonabo and Anacaona
Children of Toussaint L’Overture.
Wanted to write that poem
But there were rallies and meetings to attend
And I needed a new job
One where I wasn’t plagued by white liberals
Asking where I come from
And trying to speak Spanish
Wanted to write my anti-war poem
Standing on firm ground
But I’m looking for a place to live
Can’t tell you where I will call ‘home’ in a month
Been questioning where I call home even now
I wanted to write a poem
That meant something
That made a difference
That could stop bullets
A poem that would rebuild marketplaces
Breathe life back into burnt brown bodies
A poem that could cross rivers
With two names
Rio Grande y Bravo
Tigris and Dijla
Euphrates and Furat,
Traversing Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia
If these wars ever end
The one that rages always over there somewhere
And the one right here in my heart
If these wars ever end
If my brother ever makes it to Puerto Rico
If my lost lover ever comes back to me
If I ever find home
Work with meaning
If the war that just wants peace and love
If that war over there
This war right here
If these wars
If I can ever find a moment’s quiet
Peace of mind
I’ll write that poem.
Here’s a video of the author reciting the poem in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
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 ofUnder What Bandera?: Anti-War Ofrendas from Minnesota y Califas (Calaca Press, 2004). He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.