The Beat Within: This Is a Poem About What Causes Poems Like This to Be Written

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'd also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence …

For all those who’ve 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 add just one more thing ...

A 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 died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of a twelve-year U.S. embargo against that country … before the war ever began … and now … the drums of war beat again ...

Before I begin this poem ...

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
Well they went on as if they were alive ...

One year of silence …

For the millions 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 ...

Two months of silence ...

For the decade 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 Guatemalans
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years …

1,955 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 and corrugated steel ...

Twenty-five 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 height of sycamore trees
In the South
The North
The East
The West
There will 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 now
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 the somewhere within the pillars of power …
You open your mouth to invoke 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 are laid to rest
The drums disintegrated to dust ...

Before I begin this poem.

You want a moment of silence …
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
While the rest of us hope to hell that it won't be
Not like it always has been
Because you see
This isn't a 9/11 poem
This is a 9/10 poem!
A 9/9 poem!
A 9/8 poem!
A 9/7 poem!
This is a 1619 poem!
A 1492 poem!
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written
But if it is a 9/11 poem
It's a September 11, 1973 poem for the people of Chile
It's a September 12, 1977 poem for the Steven Biko of South Africa
It's a September 13, 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica prison in New York
It's a September 14, 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 100 stories that CNN, ABC, The New York Times and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem to interrupt their programs
This is not a peace poem
Not some poem of 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 empties;
The unmarked graves
Lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children.

Before I begin this poem …

We could be silent forever ...
Or just long enough to hunger for the dust to bury us
And would you still ask us for more of our silence ...

Well 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 emails and instant messages
Derail the trains and 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 …

Tear down the Liquor stores
The Townhouses
The Penthouses
The Jail houses
And the White Houses

If you want a moment of silence ...
Then take it now!
Before this poem begins
Here’s your silence
Take it!
Take it all!
But don't cut in line
Let your silence begin
At the beginning of crime …

Jesse Jackson, 52, is currently in the San Francisco County Jail for a probation violation. He has spent the better part of the last 35 years in and out of the criminal justice system.

The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at

VIDEO: A Former Georgia State Child Advocate Explains His Work Helping Kids in Guatemala

Tom Rawlings
The Georgia Juvenile Services Association (GJSA) recently wrapped its 2012 Training Summit in Savannah, Ga., an annual chance for juvenile court workers from across the state to share knowledge, network and blow off steam away from the daily pressures and demands of their often stressful work.

GJSA members include employees at all levels of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, juvenile courts, county departments of family and children services and other organizations dedicated to helping children.

Giving the keynote address Aug. 22 was Georgia’s former Child Advocate, Tom Rawlings, who spoke about lessons he has learned from his current job as Director of International Justice Mission’s Guatemala field office. There, Rawlings manages “a multidisciplinary team of attorneys, investigators, social works and psychiatrists which essentially acts as a combination district attorney’s office and child advocacy center,” he said. In partnership with the government, his team prosecutes child abuse cases and treats the victims.

Rawlings, who spoke no Spanish before arriving in Guatemala, found he had to adjust his tactics to fit the complicated political and social situation he would now be navigating.

Below, Rawlings briefly describes his work in Guatemala and the challenges he faced.

Tom Rawlings Interview from Ryan Schill on Vimeo.

One Couple Fights to Reunite Family Despite Immigration Status

One family in Dalton, Ga. is fighting to be reunited after the mother and father were stripped of their parental rights. The juvenile court judge ruled that Ovidio and Domitina Mendez were unable to care adequately for their five children, all of whom have complicated medical needs, according to The Chattanooga Times Free Press. But advocates working on behalf of the Mendez family argue the parents’ inability to speak English and illegal immigration status were the deciding factors in the case.

The five Mendez children, aged three through seven, are currently living with a foster family who is trying to adopt them. All five children have disabilities and have been diagnosed with a possible mitochondrial disorder. The cost of caring for the children is high and the foster parents receive $90,000 per year to care for the children, The Times Free Press reports. Additionally, the children must be taken to dozens of doctor’s visits and therapy sessions each month.

Ovidio and Domitina Mendez moved to the United States from a village in Guatemala. Further complicating communication issues, the couple’s first language is Mam, not Spanish. They currently work in carpet factories although they are not authorized to be in the country. According to The Times Free Press, the Mendez’s attorney is working to help them change their immigration status because they have lived in the United States for more than 10 years and their children were born here.

Immigration status is not enough to terminate parental rights, the Times Free Press reports. But according to Bart Barnwell, the attorney who represented the children in court, cultural differences have been the major barrier for the parents.

Many Latinos, such as Ovidio and Domitina Mendez, are employed in Dalton's carpet factories. A Times Free Press story from June reported on roadblocks by Dalton police. Many in the community are concerned the police are targeting hispanics by placing the roadblocks near entrances to the carpet factories or in mostly Latino neighborhoods.

Bruce Kling, special assistant attorney general for Whitfield County Department of Family and Children's Services, said during closing arguments of the Mendez’s custody hearing that the children’s medical needs were the primary reason whey they were taken from their parents.

“We basically have two individuals with first- to second-grade educations,” he said. “And although they have the capacity to love and care for their children, they do not have the capacity to understand their immense medical needs to properly address them."

Ovidio Mendez did enroll in English classes at Dalton State Community College but he stopped going because of the cost and time commitment, The Times Free Press reports. Still, Spanish is a second language for the parents, making learning English even more difficult.

Marcia Zug, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told The Times Free Press, “Many of the child welfare workers may think it's better for an American child to be raised in the U.S. by an American family. Given the anti-immigrant feeling in the country, people are more sympathetic to these arguments."


Photo: Flickr, Wagner Cassimiro