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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 inocencio@thebeatwithin.org.

Cherie Miller On Keeping My Boys on the Straight and Narrow

I lived for almost 15 years in Wheaton, Ill., a wealthy suburb outside of Chicago. Within the city borders were five different colleges, therefore, city officials kept a very tight rein on teenagers. My sons, who went to high school with hair past their shoulders, often felt “targeted” by the high school police officers and the local cops patrolling our downtown.

Wheaton had very tight curfew laws. The Wheaton city code applied to anyone under the age of 17 requiring them to be home “from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights.” The state also had curfew laws that made parents responsible. My sons’ driving licenses “expired” after curfew, curtailing the amount of driving that was done by teens between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

I rarely had a problem with my three sons when we lived in Wheaton, but there was one night when my best laid plans to keep within the law went awry.

My son, Josh, at 16 wanted to attend a concert in downtown Chicago on a weekend. He and his friends hired a limo driver to bring them back to Wheaton after the show. Since they would get back after curfew, I assumed Josh would be dropped off by the limo driver at home. Of course, teens rarely think the same way parents do so he asked to be dropped off with his friend. They were hungry, so they visited the Taco Bell drive-thru before heading to our house. It was about 1:00 a.m. when a Wheaton police officer called me to tell me he had my son in custody for a curfew violation.

I was glad to be living in a town where my sons were under so much scrutiny. They knew someone was always watching them, if not me, the cop in the police cruiser at the Taco Bell. And my sons rarely got in trouble. Crime was low and my suburban streets felt safe, even when walking home at night from taking the Chicago Northwestern trains home from downtown Chicago.

Was my suburban experience typical? According to Patrick Kline, a researcher from the University of California-Berkley, “…curfews appear to have important effects on the criminal behavior of youth. The arrest data suggests that being subject to a curfew reduces the arrests of juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10 percent in the five years following enactment.”

I’m one parent who appreciated the governmental support to my role as a “good” parent. The police didn’t supplant my parental role of ensuring that my teenagers were home at a decent hour. But they did offer help.

Kline noted the role of parents in ensuring a safe community. In his study he said, “An alternative rationalization of the evidence is that parents play an important role in the enforcement of curfews over and above that of the police. If municipal curfews act as focal points in the establishment of household policies, a curfew with modest fines (and arrests) could lead to large changes in the behavior of youth. The potential role of parents in self-enforcement of curfews is an important area for future research.”

The Taco Bell lesson? My son learned if you’re going to be out after curfew, don’t get hungry. And, I learned as a single mom that it was great parental leverage to have the police officers watching my back by helping my sons to grow into decent human beings.

Cherie K. Miller lives on a lake in Georgia with her husband, Steve, and a blended family consisting of seven sons, two dogs, two geckos and a freakishly grumpy 17 year old cat. She is an author of three books. She and her husband have a nonprofit, Legacy Educational Resources that provides character education materials to school teachers, administrators and others who care about developing character in our young people. Contact her at www.character-education.info