we could give you lifetimes of empty

Moment of Silence
Emmanuel Ortiz

Before I start 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 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 U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing
A full day of silence for the tens of thousands of
Palestinians who
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
Skin and the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence for the millions of dead in Viet Nam
– a people, not
war – for those who know a thing or two about the
scent of burning
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
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 in their
living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal,
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans
who found their
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
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

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

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

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
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in
The 110 stories that that CNN, BBC, The New York
Times, and Newsweek
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
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and

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
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.


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