A Poem For The Fallen

This year I am taking an Introduction To Political Science class that I couldn’t take last year because of schedule conflicts. It’s dry as toast most of the time, but every once in a while we’ll discuss something interesting or intriguing. Last Thursday was one of those days, but not for the reasons I think the T.A. intended.

The T.A. began the class by showing us a video of the twin towers in New York City collapsing on September, 11th/2001. For those of you who live in countries where this didn’t hit the news I’ll give you a brief summary of the event as I’ve come to understand them. I’ll try to keep my summary as unbiased as possible, before I launch into my opinions on the matter.

The September 11th attacks of 2001, better known as the 9/11 attacks, were a series of four coordinated suicide attacks on major American buildings. Nineteen people hijacked four passenger jets. Two of the planes were flown into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center Complex in New York City, New York both of which collapsed. A third plane was flown into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and a fourth plane attempted to fly into The United States Capital Building in Washington, D.C. but instead crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania when the passengers attempted to overcome the hijackers. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks including all 227 civilians.

The hijackers were identified as “terrorists” from a “militant” “Islamist*” group called “Al-Qaeda”.
The group’s leader, Osama bin Laden, initially denied the groups’ involvement, but eventually claimed responsibility for the attacks in 2004. He cited U.S. support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and sanctions against Iraq as motives for the attacks. I talk about some of these factors in my post on The Gulf War. The United States responded to the attacks by launching a “War on Terror” and invading Afghanistan to supposedly depose the Taliban, which had harbored Al-Qaeda. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks many countries, Canada included, strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded law enforcement powers.

*Side Note: I learned recently from an acquaintance in one of my Social Justice classes that the word Islam in Arabic is a verb and therefore to call something “Islamist” doesn’t make sense because its a verb not a noun. Just a another way that the ignorant twist the meanings of things that they do not understand.

The first day of my Social Justice and Peace class first year was the tenth anniversary of 9/11. In response to this my professor read aloud to us the following poem. It’s a great reminder of all of the conflicts we have engaged in as human beings and the forgotten victims of those conflicts. It also highlights the hypocrisy and insanity of putting so much emphasis on a single incident that killed a relatively small number of people in comparison to the conflicts the U.S. and other countries have engaged in.

Moment of Silence
By Emmanuel Ortiz

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honour of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11th.

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 both Afghanistan and the US

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
US-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 11-year US
embargo against the country.

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 Vietnam – 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.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret
war …. ssssshhhhh…. Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that
they are dead.
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.

An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two 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
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their
graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore
trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…

For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples 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 …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating 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 9/11 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 poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New
York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your 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.

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 instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

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
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
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.
But take it all… Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.
But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…
For our dead.


One thought on “A Poem For The Fallen

  1. Pingback: Prepare To Be Amazed | The Mischief Mistress

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