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Before I start this poem
2003-09-14, 8:59 p.m.

Before I start this poem, 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 Centre

and the Pentagon

last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you

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 U.S.

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 11-year U.S. 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 Guetmaltecos ...

None of whom ever knew

a moment of peace

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 9-1-1 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 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


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.

Emmanuel Ortiz works with the Minnesota Alliance for the Indigenous Zapatistas (MAIZ) and Estación Libre. He is a staff member of the Resource Centre of the Americas, the non-profit publisher of americas.org

© 2002 Idaho Indymedia Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Idaho-IMC.

Original article is at http://idaho.indymedia.org/news/2003/04/1800.php

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