A Moment of Silence

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Yves here. I am a day late to note the passing of yet another 9/11 date, and that might not be such a terrible thing, although saying that risks offending those who lost someone in the attacks or suffered as a result of participating in the rescue effort.

The issue, as the poem below makes clear, is not that the deaths and other human costs of 9/11 should not be remembered and mourned. It’s that the US has sanctified this event when we’ve casually, either directly or by supporting perpetrators, killed and maimed vastly more.

To repeat what is likely to seem obvious: the significance of 9/11 is that it greatly accelerated US nation-breaking for sport and profit. There was a case of sorts for invading Afghanistan. Americans now know the case for invading Iraq was fabricated, but most people in the rest of the world had worked that out at the time (yours truly participated in the huge protest in Sydney).

I was in New York City on 9/11, although uptown, and thus somewhat removed (those who lived below 14th Street had car and public transportation routes cut off, could smell the acrid smoke and the din of sirens). I noticed I was less rattled than most I encountered in Manhattan and tried to work out why. One was the obvious “being above 14th Street”. The second was not seeing much TV; I didn’t have cable and caught updates at the gym. Generally speaking, the more you watched, the more unhinged you became. But the third was the level of upset also depended on whether you saw the world as a safe place. I knew some people who were objectively not at all affected by the day’s events, not overdosing on TV, and yet were very rattled. To a person, they’d grown up in stable circumstances and had done pretty to very well as adults.

I wonder how much the successful Iraq propaganda campaign stoked this new sense that the world was dangerous and the US needed to take more tough cop measures to restore a feeling of safety.

As an aside, or those of you who saw the pomp around the death of the Queen and the coronation of the new King as colonial porn, you might find an antidote in After Queen’s Death, Victims of British Imperialism Share Why ‘We Will Not Mourn’ at Common Dreams.

Thank reader Jan B for suggesting this work.

By Emmanuel Ortiz. Originally published September 11, 2002

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 a 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, 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.
And the family whose little girls encountered death from eating their tacos
(Death 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 the crime

And we,
We will keep right on singing
For our dead.

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  1. Tom Pfotzer

    And take another moment of silence for all the people that knew this was happening and tried their best to oppose it, and were run over by the crowd.

    They’re dying another sort of death.

    Are they dead yet?

    1. Tom Pfotzer


      How do the little people acquire power?

      a) numbers, b) recognition of shared interests, and then c) cooperation among the many to achieve those shared interests.

      We’d always hoped that the Internet would help with b) and c) above. How are we doing with that?

  2. Matthew G. Saroff

    Every 9/11, I quote Eric Frank Russel’s best known book wasp on my blog.

    It is the story of a man sent behind enemy lines to trigger an overreaction from the enemy:

    “Phew!” Mowry raised his eyebrows.

    “Finally, let’s consider this auto smash. We know the cause; the survivor was able to tell us before he died. He said the driver lost control at high speed while swiping at a wasp which had flown in through a window and started buzzing around his face.”

    “It nearly happened to me once.”

    Ignoring that, Wolf went on, “The weight of a wasp is under half an ounce. Compared with a human being its size is minute, its strength negligible. Its sole armament is a tiny syringe holding a drop of irritant, formic acid, and in this case it didn’t even use it. Nevertheless it killed four big men and converted a large, powerful car into a heap of scrap.”


    “However,” Wolf went on, “the problem becomes less formidable than it looks if we bear in mind that one man can shake a government, two men temporarily can put down an army twenty-seven thousands strong, or one small wasp can slay four comparative giants and destroy their huge machine into the bargain.” He paused, watching the other for effect, continued, “Which means that by scrawling suitable words upon a wall, the right man in the right place at the right time might immobilize an armoured division with the aid of nothing more than a piece of chalk.”

    I would argue that bin Laden won.

    1. mistah charley, ph.d.

      the wikipedia article on this novel has a link to a copy at the internet archive

      I read this novel when it came out, as a boy of ten

  3. Lexx

    ‘It’s that the US has sanctified this event when we’ve casually, either directly or by supporting perpetrators, killed and maimed vastly more.’

    Last night we watched ‘The Last Vermeer’, where I heard one character or another use the word ‘narcissist’ three times in one movie, as though narcissism were on trial, and it was.

    The narcissist always claims the role of the victim; it’s their disguise.

    In the movie, Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pierce) repeatedly counters any accusation that he was a Nazi collaborator, with the excuse of doing whatever he had to do to survive. He’s found guilty for political reasons (though he was clearly a master forger of Vermeer paintings) but wins in the court of public opinion (the angry mob outside the courthouse). He was still found guilty of forgery and sentenced to a year in prison, where he dies six weeks later of a heart attack.



  4. Anarcissie

    The issue, as the poem below makes clear, is not that the deaths and other human costs of 9/11 should not be remembered and mourned. It’s that the US has sanctified this event when we’ve casually, either directly or by supporting perpetrators, killed and maimed vastly more.

    I suppose one has to work with the icons one has. There is probably no “race” or nation on Earth that has not had its share of mass murderers, but the poem notices mostly the role Europeans (the “White Man”) who, by institutionalizing and industrializing the process, left their competitors in the dust. (Although I have heard that Jenghis Khan proposed killing all the Chinese, which would have earned him a lot of points.) There is something narcissistic about claiming unique evil for one’s self and one’s own. Yes, you’re evil, but so are so many others. And this can lead to mistakes, such as “the war to end war”, as if settling some temporary differences between a select group of European powers would produce a perfect peace for everybody everywhere forever, instead of making everything worse. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” And we are them.

  5. ckimball

    Thank you.

    The poem stands alone
    no words can withstand it
    It is its own page
    ripped out of time

    thank you again

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