Friday, September 11, 2009

A Moment of Silence for 9/11

I am copying and pasting here a post that I got from my friend Emanuel Ortiz on Facebook. I met Emanuel 12 years ago when I transferred to the University of Minnesota. He was the first person to invite me to read my spoken word in public, at the release of his first chapbook back in 2002 or 2003.

The poem that you find below was written seven years ago on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. I was there the first time it was read in public. It says everything that I need to say and communicates everything I feel about that tragic day, it's meaning, and it's limitations. Emanuel captures it perfectly. Much love to you Manny. May we continue to walk together down this long road for another decade.

Dear friends and fam-
On this, the 8th anniversary of what we commonly call "9/11", many of us are reflecting back on that day, and the days proceeding the incidents of that day. I hope that we can also reflect upon the days (years, decades) that led up to 9/11. I hope that we, as a nation, as a people, as a planet, are learning lessons from what has happens and continues to happen.

As usually happens at this time of year, I've been getting a number of notes and requests regarding a poem I wrote and released on the 1st anniversary of 9/11, which over the years has certainly made its rounds on the internet & taken on a life of its own (most recently, I have received e-mails from India and Bangladesh seeking permission to translate the poem, just in the past month). I continue to be humbled and amazed at the life of this poem, and at the same time, I cannot help but acknowledge that perhaps it speaks to a sentiment many of us around the world feel, but don't have the voice to say (or, perhaps more accurately, the audience to be heard). I think the attention the poem has received speaks far more to the significance of its message, the experiences and sentiments of the world's marginalized majority, especially in the wake of the U.S. governemnet's responses to 9/11, than it does to this writer's skills.

Given the requests I have gotten, I have decided to post the poem here, on this date - a date the gov't has tried to put a ridiculously insulting spin on by calling it "Patriots' Day" - as food for thought, a call for reflection that shakes loose the political & historical amnesia of an imperialist, racist agenda. I might add that a change in administrations in the U.S. has not changed much on the global front - we still pursue wars of occupation and domination. We still target, attack & discriminate against "Illegal" immigrants - even in the effort to push for health care reform! We continue to operate as an Empire.
Therefore, this poem, this message (and many others like it,***** will remain relevant.
I hope something in this poem touches you, moves you, changes you. Please feel free to share it.
And for you "patriots" out there, spare me the hate mail, I've heard it all before.

In struggle,
Emmanuel Ortiz

(PLEASE see Suheir Hammad's "First Writing Since - and Arundhati Roy's speech "Come September" - for shining examples of brilliant exampls of poetry and speeches in the wake of 9/11 that give voice to resistance, struggle, affirmation...)
*also, see this - the poem put to dance/percussion by Restless Natives, performed in front of the US Capitol Building:

A Moment of Silence
by Emmanuel Ortiz

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 an 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 and 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.
Take it all.
But don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.

And we,

We will keep right on singing
For our dead.



  1. This poem is really really powerful and incredible. Moved me to tears. Thank you for writing it!

  2. Shelly...I will pass this praise on to Emmanuel!


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