And Our Hope Is One

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From the 9/11 museum. Front photo by Krista Niles/The New York Times

On another anniversary of the day when "the fiery birds of war come home to roost," as well as another start of the Jewish New Year, the poem "Shema" - the most fundamental Jewish prayer for the oneness of God and all people - by Jewish-Puerto Rican poet and activist Aurora Levina Morales. From 9/11, she most vividly recalls not just the grief and horror but also the "astonished and self-righteous outrage, not that anyone should do such a barbaric thing, but that that they should do it to us," the stark realization by so many Americans that we are "not immune/ from the tragedies spawned in the ready rooms of our leaders."

"What should surprise us?" she asks. "That other residents of soot choked cities/other heart-ripped mourners of civilian dead, other anguished enraged people/should be swept up in a whirlwind of if we were the only human beings on earth/and we alone, when we are burned, scream?" She cites those who resist the pull toward revenge and rage but instead see that, "Those towers were golden symbols of wealth in a hungry world/and I won't wave a flag till everyone has eaten." "All the living are one," Morales insists. "All together/every single heart beating in every time zone/desiring more than anything (the) shared bread of justice...Hear oh people, this is our hope/and our hope is one."


Hear this: while the generals, panting, peruse their lists of countries to bomb
in the sacred cause of reestablishing that their collective dick is bigger
than that of any pissant, terrorist-wielding, dark-faced dictator in a tent;
while the same men who have plotted invasion after invasion of sovereign lands,
bombed cities into rubble on every inhabited continent, called the deaths of children
an acceptable sacrifice, kidnapped killed and replaced the leaders of other countries
with nothing but admiration for their own maneuvers,
Hear this! while these men diagram the next war into which they will drag us
using our fear as gasoline, using our grief as lubricant--
wake up!

America the dutiful, wake up from the mall-driven dream of snug security,
the fraudulent, flag-wrapped lifetime warranty of the good life
just out of reach but surely coming to us all, even the ragged homeless in our streets,
American  ragged, in American streets, surely more pure in poverty,
more blessed than the beggars of Bangkok or Bombay.
Wake up and see the shocked eyes of a hundred thousand dead Iraqi children
watch as the fiery birds of war come home to roost. 
Hear, oh people.  The warriors are many.
War is one.

There is nothing to separate this fiery falling of buildings
from the buildings that have fallen in flame
under the weight of ordinance made in factories just down the road from each of us;
the jets filled with ordinary people turned into unwilling missiles were forged,
rolled, cut, riveted, welded in the same factories,
by the same billionaire wing-makers
whose jets burned the sky over Baghdad, Panama City, Grenada, the Mekong.
What should surprise us?  That other residents of soot choked cities,
other heart-ripped mourners of civilian dead, other anguished, enraged people
should be swept up in a whirlwind of revenge?  What have they done to us
that so many hateful, hysterical voices blare over the radios of our nation
as if we were the only human beings on earth
and we alone, when we are burned, scream?

Never forget: we were taxpayers in Egypt[1]
Imagine if we, his armies, his consenting majority, had said to Pharaoh
we will not be wielded against any more enslaved people,
any more unwilling subjects, any more laborers of the pyramid maquiladoras
in the name of your golden sarcophagus.  You have put us in harm's way.
The angry gods of the conquered do not distinguish
between kings and their subjects.  We will not drown for you.

Hear, oh people, the man on television surprised by devastation into saying
that Manhattan looked to him that night just like Beirut, as if only Beirut
is supposed to look that way. 
Imagine Beirut is your home
and it has looked like this for as long as you can remember.
Imagine you know that untouchable nation across the sea
has everything to do with your ruined city and then look again,
from the other side of the table, at Manhattan streets full of rubble,
Manhattan sending up plumes of smoke
and imagine what you might feel.  Listen
to the indignant woman from Pennsylvania who wants to know
why she was not protected from this, who fell down on the job?
Who demands to know why the people of the greatest nation on earth are not immune
from the tragedies spawned in the ready rooms of our leaders? 

Hear the call of the ram's horn and rouse yourselves from the dream of comfort
into the cold light of day. It is better to be awake than comfortable.
The illusion was bought on credit
and the street children of Brazil are our creditors.
Our creditors are the elders of Nigerian villages
bulldozed by Chevron's private armies,
Colombian coal miners gunned down for saying "union"
to Drummond Co. Inc., coal kings of Alabama, by thugs
paid for in the name of a fictitious war on drugs, 
our creditors are the drowning island nations of the Pacific
disappearing in a warm and rising sea begging us to stop using
so much more energy than we need, inching their houses
closer together on their vanishing land
while Disney's Electric Circus sparkles and dazzles
to the delight of shrieking children,
sticky with candy and ignorance, and late night television hawkers
peddle gadget after gadget that does with electricity what,
for the sake of our suffering neighbors, we could do with our hands.
Our creditors are the millions of oil dead, ravaged nations of refugees
whose lives stood in the path of insatiable greed,
who were considered collateral damage, cost of production,
to expand the already swollen bank accounts of the obscenely rich.
Do people burn villages for profit and then buy television moments
to tell us their compassionate corporate nature
has saved a tiny butterfly called a Mission Blue ?  People do. 
We did not sign these mortgages on our futures,
but our names were placed on the deeds
and we will be asked to pay. 

Hear, oh bystanders certain of your innocence,
not one of the passengers, flight crew, office workers, fire fighters deserved to die
and neither are we innocent. 
We have inherited the hatred of whole continents of the hungry,
been persuaded to accept the leftovers of their looted wealth as our civilized due,
taught to think of it as just a higher standard of living,
as if our shrinking ability to pay $35 for blue jeans made by a girl in Honduras for 85¢
was the result of a better upbringing, of our impeccable taste,
and not the random fortune of being born under the coattails of empire.
We are the heirs to the hatred our corporate masters earn faster than interest,
the invisible column in their quarterly reports,
and upon us will fall the fiery hand of the desperate.
Hear this:  the lost humanity of the hijackers and the blazing deaths of the hijacked
have already been calculated into the annual overheads,
figured into the budgets of business as usual
and boards of directors have said amen.

Wake up, oh people, to the voices of our missing kin. 
We have been lulled into forgetting them.
We are the grandchildren of starving Irish tenants,
kidnapped Senegalese teenagers and Ghanaian farmers,
refugees from wars between petty fiefdoms and principalities of Europe
and the drafts of the Tsar's armies. 
We are the descendants of English serfs and sheep shearers
fled from the pillage of the common lands. We are the children of daughters sold to traders for food
and sold again to strangers, dead of syphilis at twenty;
the children of Cantonese stowaways and Swedish orphans, of sailors pressed into service
and servants oppressed and indentured, of children wasted into pale shreds at the loom,
of foot weary Neapolitan fruit vendors and raw knuckled Polish laundresses,
Puerto Rican seamstresses and shtetl shirtmakers from Byelorus.
We are the children of Norwegian and Bavarian loggers
clearcutting white pine from the landscape for a pittance
and Portuguese codfishers emptying the Grand Banks for a crust,
of Cornish colliers coughing up blood in Sierra Nevada mines
and Scots Cherokee miners buried alive in Kentucky coal shafts. 
We are the offspring of French fur trappers and Huron leatherworkers, smallpox survivors
and relocated Choctaw singers, Mexican war widows who walked to El Paso
one step ahead of the armies and Vietnamese families forever missing their children dead
along the long way out of horror.  If we are also the children of slaveholders and Indian agents,
factory overseers, paper mill millionaires and railroad robber barons,
then we are the long sleeping conscience that can wake and shake the family tree. 

Hear, oh people. This is the now. This is the day our ancestors dreamed
they would be the ancestors of.  Our ancestors who are the cause of the eight hour day,
of social security and workers' compensation, of public libraries and cooperatives,
of weekends and sick leave and the right to bargain,
of there being anywhere to turn and of the vestiges of a free press still speaking
in the nooks and crannies of the corporate monotone drone they call news.
The freedom we have pledged our allegiance to does not yet exist,
and wherever the seedlings of it are green it is because we the people planted.
We are the custodians of freedom, not the barking voices of war makers.

The safety they tell us we have lost because of maniacal Muslims from a far away land
was never real; most of the people in this country are not safe. 
Many cannot walk down the street without being pulled over for being brown
and perhaps shot.  Cannot open the window without breathing cancer. Cannot go to work
without soaking up birth defects.  Cannot turn on the television
without being lied to.  Cannot get healing when they are sick, no matter how sick they are. 
Cannot do work that makes them proud to do it because all they can get paid for
is taking out the trash of others and making the parts that keep the machines of others running. 
Can expect no destination except prison
because that is the only space that has been left vacant for them.
Liberty and justice for all is a rag shot full of exceptions.

We children of a thousand nations gathered in this homeland of hope and horror,
bribed with hot and cold running water, electric pencil sharpeners
and the prerecorded cheerleader's chant that we are the best, best, best in the world,
we have been hypnotized by the fantasy that we are the freest of all people
to quietly accept the coup of the unelected, and the ravaging of the planet;
we are passengers in a car driven by men drunk with plunder,
ricocheting through the world leaving trails of devastation:
we are the ones who must take the wheel,
stop this hurtling death ride, downshift into decency, not because we are wiser
than the crushed and bleeding in the streets, but because we are here. 
We are not the designated drivers of the world:
but we are designated to stop what we can reach.

Right now, as the men in the soundproof rooms demand war,
demand retaliation against insolent unknowns
who dare to boomerang bloodshed back into their spanking clean boardrooms, now,
while the networks juxtapose burning buildings and smiling Muslim faces
getting us ready to accept whichever Middle Eastern war target they choose
to be their nation of expendable accomplices to crime; THIS is the moment
to ask these men who finance death squads around the world
and stand in the floodlights declaring they will not tolerate terrorism:
What have you done in our name that anyone should wish us such harm?

If we have not known, this is the time to know.  If we have been unwitting,
this is the time to gather our wits.  If we have allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed
by the delusion that we are helpless, the machine all powerful
and the state of the world best left to others, most of them unborn,
if we have fallen into the blank narcotic dream of our insignificance,
settled for the late night promise of an exciting career
in dental hygiene or the thrill of a nicely packed 401k and a remodeled kitchen,
if we have fallen to our knees under the blows of complacency and ridicule,
it is not too late to forgive ourselves and rise.

Now is the time to quit the comforting drug of let it be cold turkey
and rise up shaking from the floors of our spirits with all of our ancestors around us.
Today is the day to insist that this nation rooted in conquest and slavery,
rooted in rebellion and righteousness, renew the meaning of our union
and become what we have never been except in the speeches of politicians. 
Make true the proclamations of the senators and let us serve notice upon
the duly incorporated, legally registered, true and trademarked terrorists
who, to our undying outrage, have launched themselves from US soil,
protected by US armies, backed by US money and US law.
Cut their budget of tolerance and cash, for they have embezzled our honor
to finance a wave of crime against humanity.
Hogtie the global bullies
who have raised such hatred by their acts
that this tsunami of helpless rage has been hurled
against the members of our families.
Hold the bandits responsible for each beloved face gone
in the backlash of international loathing.
We do not absolve those desperate men of the murders of our people,
but we also name the killers of their peace; we know who it was
that robbed them of everything but desperation, who taught them
to trust weaponry, who treated their lives with such contempt
that they grew contemptuous of ours. 

Shema, people of the United States of America, 
infinitely divisible under their thumbs,
infinitely courageous, humble and just within our hearts
heirs to struggles of a hundred thousand righteous ordinary people
what peace will we make and with whom?

There is untold wealth hidden among us. 
Wally who is having bad dreams of Pearl Harbor
and is wrestling to find compassion for people he doesn't understand
and doesn't want them dead before he finds it, who says out loud 
"I have fought in three wars and I don't want this one."
Lucille who lost her husband under rubble, a firefighter,
and wants no fires set in his name to ravage any other life.
Jules who survived the deaths of six million of his relatives
and has gone to stand in front a mosque and prevent harm. 
Kim who says I don't know much but I know this,
those towers were golden symbols of wealth in a hungry world
and I won't wave a flag til everyone has eaten.
Eric, who had a brother on that planeload of people who refused to be used as weapons
and says if he can be that brave so can I.  I will not be hurled at anyone's home.

A murdered poet in a land of volcanoes has told us
All together, they have more death than we,
but all together
every single heart beating in every time zone
desiring more than anything if the truth be told
the shared bread of justice, and the laughter of the ones we love
all together he said before he died, one and one and one and one
we have more life, more life, more life than they.
Hear oh people, this is our hope
and our hope is one.

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Photo by Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger

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