< HOME  Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sing For Our Dead


September 11, 2002
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.

[image: banksy]


At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger qrswave said...

thanks for sharing those truly moving words.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

yr welcome

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how about an eternity of silence for the only race in the entirety of history that has ever fought, killed and died to free another race from the slavery they still practice today?

To hell with silence, how about saying you are sorry for blaming white people for every failure of your own kind?

And once you have said you are sorry, how about getting off our backs and standing on your own?

And once you stand on your own, how about taking responsibility for all the wars we fight to save you from your own dialogue?

And while you are at it, take some of the guilt you slander us with, it doesn't belong to us.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

which race might that be? human?

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is just one percent of why Whites can proudly stand and say "NOT GUILTY!


I doubt you can handle the other 99%, it is too real.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great majority of white people cannot understand institutional racism. It is weaved within the fabric of the nation and is subtle (and not so subtle), if not nonexistent to them.
For a quick example, real estate:
Take a neighbourhood, a few black families move in, whites move out for fear of property depreciation, which causes the depreciation.
Then you like in the early Detroit suburbs, preferencial treatment to whites as real estate agents want to keep property values high.

America is a great country, it has many demons to exorcise too. Humility comes with maturity.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, January 03, 2006, Blogger qrswave said...

Wow, what heated discourse!

Doc, I think you focus too narrowly on, what in my estimation is the poet's one misguided reference to "white guilt."

Saying that all white people are guilty for the actions of a few white people is illogical and divisive.

But at the same token, the chronicle of atrocities detailed in his poem are real. They were commited by evil persons, some were white and some, no doubt, were not.

The message which I choose to embrace from this poem is that we must reflect on ALL lives lost as a result of human greed and depravity. No one innocent human life lost deserves more reflection or sorrow than another innocent human life lost.

We are all human. Whether we like it or not, we are all one--connected by genes and by our collective human condition, one of fear, hope, mortality, and our constant need for community.

Doc, I fail to see your point with the link. Besides, the list not only fails to include our numerical system (the zero) and algebra, which may be the single most important discovery in human progress, it also mentions destructive inventions that can hardly be celebrated like bombs, credit cards, and the guillotine, to name a few.

At Wednesday, January 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My reaction is not hard to understand, really. Unless I missed it, the "poem" only blames one race for all the miseries listed. As someone who has been repeatedly and personally blamed for all the failures of all other races, I am extremely sensitive to yet another accusation.

I thought the link was so obvious it needs no explanation, but I was wrong. Close examination reveals that the greatest inventions, the ones which changed and blessed all humantity, are almost exclusively the gift of one race.

We could nitpick the list, but things like the two nukes we dropped on Japan saved many more lives than they took. They did something else, which nobody has ever admitted - for the first time in human history, the leaders who start wars risk losing their own lives, as well as their families and friends, and their fortunes and empires. Admit it or not, that is a very powerful force for peace.

And the guillotine? Prior to its invention, burning at the stake was the favored method of execution. As horrific as it was, the guillotine was hailed as a more humane method at the time.

Still think white people are guilty? Let's take them out of the picture entirely and see what we have. Zimbabwe and South Africa have both been commiting genocide against white people for two decades. The results? South Africa has replaced Brazil as the murder capital of the world, and gang rape has become the national sport. Zimbabwe has 70% unemployment and 500% inflation, and is entirely dependant on the generosity of their betters to survive.

Despite all its problems, the united States of America remains the brightest shining light of hope for the world. The people who laid its foundation, and set its course through history, were all white. So before anybody vomits "white guilt" at me, know that I know what to do with it. I just press the lever, and flush it back to where it came from.

At Wednesday, January 04, 2006, Blogger qrswave said...


I can see your point about the guillotine being more humane than burning at the stake. And as I said earlier, generalizing about "white guilt" is both illogical and divisive.

That is where we part. I am sorry to hear that you feel the way you do about race.


At Wednesday, January 04, 2006, Blogger Jeff G said...

I must say that I'm a tad confused by this discussion. I'm a "white guy" (Scottish descent) and I don't feel offended by this poem. We are all capable of the brutality born of greed, ignorance, and ill-will. It is not our ethnicity that defines us so much as it is our choices. We are all guilty of bad judgement, and more than just once over the course of our lives. Some choices carry heavy and frightful consequences. The poem illuminates these bad decisions and their consequences. An atrocity is an atrocity regardless of who commits it. I don't detect any indictment of the "white race" in the poet's words.

It is diffucult for me to wrap my brain around the notion of group guilt. Guilt, like responsibility, is individual. What relevence is the invention of the guillotine to this discussion?

The atomic bomb argument is specious. Any estimation of "lives saved" is speculation at best. That it caused terrible suffering and loss of life to innocent people is a fact.

At Wednesday, January 04, 2006, Blogger yusuf chun said...


word. never saw that white thing either. peace.

At Wednesday, January 04, 2006, Blogger qrswave said...

morpheus! :)

Thanks for joining the discussion.

The guillotine was on the "list" of human inventions to which Doc directed our attention.

I agree with you, the argument that the bomb saved lives is at best specious. Given the massive loss of innocent life it caused it is cruel and insensitive to suggest that it was somehow justified by speculative gain.

In fairness, however, there is an isolated (misguided) reference to "white guilt" in the poem. And, I believe that is what triggered this all.

At Monday, January 09, 2006, Blogger Abdul-Halim V. said...

The poem isn't about hating or blaming white people although I can see why someone might think that. I think it is more about having a more complete and all-encompassing notion of humanity where all human suffering is relevant to you, no matter where it happens or who it happens to. (Don't ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee)

The poet chose to use the phrase "white liberals" but he could have used any group which in the audience's imagination is associated with selective mourning. And I think it makes sense that from the perspective of the poet's likely audience, there are many examples of violence towards people in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East which are neglected but deserving of more attention on our collective consciousness (and conscience)

I would also say that in America, the white right is pretty much hegemonic. And the white liberals, while not "in charge" still have enough power and influence to tug on alot of people's heartstrings for certain issues that are important to them.

But perspectives of people of color have a harder time appearing on the national conscience in their own terms.

That doesn't mean white people are more evil, than non-whites. But there *is* a difference in how much access and influence different groups have on the media.

p.s. I really like that poem. I've actually seen it before and a long time ago, attached a link to it on my blog.


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