Poetry Break

Poetry Break

After 9/11, I read a letter to the editor in a local newspaper. The writer, angry about the events that transpired, demanded answers on why Muhammad Ali could “draft dodge” the Vietnam War, stating that if Muslims didn’t believe in war, why were they waging war with us now? He demanded that Ali be recognized as the draft dodger he was. The writer ironically ignored the fact that George W. Bush had also not participated in the Vietnam War. But that’s besides the point.

On 12 June 2016, Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where he opened fire and killed 49 people and injured 53 others. It was labeled as the United States’ deadliest shootings by a single shooter. Mateen died in a shootout with local police.

When news of Mateen’s doings reached social network sites like Twitter, the conservative right was quick to remind us that Mateen was Muslim with possible connections to terrorist organizations.

The portrayal of Muslims (or any non-white criminals) in the media – be it social or mainstream media – is always the same. Mateen was violent because he was Muslim, not violent because he suffered from some mental condition. The idea of the lone wolf shooter exists only for white men.

We never hear about Stephen Paddock’s religion. Never a peep about what church James Holmes went to. We did hear about how troubled Adam Lanza was before entering Sandy Hook and killed 26 people, 20 of which were children. It’s never the onus of the white population to explain the hate or violent crimes carried by their own race, but they expect it from others.

In their poem, “Why Are Muslims So…,” poets Sakila and Hawa discuss what it’s like to be Muslim in America.


Airing Laundry

Sometime after the 9/11 attacks, someone started a blog. In this blog, they wrote about someone they lost. Someone they loved. Someone stripped away from them. Each day, they wrote about this person. Maybe my memory has romanticized it, but I believe it was a widow writing about her husband. Or, just as easily, a widower writing about his wife. A mother about her child. A child about their parent.

None of that is the point. The point is, this person, this stranger, who lost someone they loved, decided to write a poem a day. I don’t know when the blog started, and I can’t remember when it ended. This was years ago. And any internet searches lead me to dead ends.

And it doesn’t matter if I find the article that sent to the blog in the first place. What made me remember was a comment on Facebook. (And coincidentally, it just so happened that the 18th anniversary of 9/11 was mere days away.)

I posted a “preview” picture of my last post. Sometimes, I like to make the announcement a new post is coming up and share it on my Instagram, which, of course, is connected to my Facebook. My cousin saw the photo and remarked, “Why are you so morbid? Everything is a learning experience in life. Some to forget some to remember. However yes the past should stay in the past but not to be forgotten. Move forward never backwards. Just saying little cousin.”

Imagine calling someone morbid and thinking it’s a teachable lesson. Mind you, this is a person who airs her dirty laundry on Facebook as if hanging fine art in an exhibit. (And, yes, I see the irony of me talking about this while chastising her for doing the same thing.) A person who talks about past transgressions as if they happened an hour ago. Who rants, raves, and spews venom about her sister; although, sister isn’t so innocent of herself. In fact, the pair of them are the reason I no longer accept friend requests from family.

Imagine the poet who wrote daily about their loss having a cousin who told them, “Why are you so morbid? It happened. Move on.”

If my year started in August 9, 2018, it can be charted with the people I lost. The night that a car accident took the lives of three wonderful people. The day I learned a college friend passed away. And the exclamation mark, my death of my estranged father, someone I only had days to make amends with.

Yes, people pick themselves up. They dust themselves off. And they continue. And, yes, life throws at us moments that can only make us stronger. And that was my point in the last post.

It’s the lifting yourself up. It’s the dusting your jeans off. It’s looking at your pasting and wondering how you got this far. It’s about looking at the people who made you who you are. The moments that shaped your being.

How am I morbid? Because I remember the days chasing trucks that look like my father’s? Because I still have nightmares of a phone ringing past midnight and entering emergency rooms to see the mother of my child in pain? Because the words of the ER nurse echoing in my head? (“She was the only survivor.”) How I remember the smile spread across my father’s slacked face when he realized who I was? How I spent the next few days watching him slowly slip into that good night? Because I remember how my heart dropped when I entered his room to find that he’d left before I got there? And how I refused to believe what was obvious.

These are moments that still haunt me, and so I write about them. And I will continue to write about them until I don’t. I’m sorry if you find that morbid.


So Where Were You When the Towers Fell?

28 Ghosts IV

Like most things I cannot explain, I turn to the realm of fiction. However, rather than just leaving your with the last post, I’ll give you a sliver of reality – which, I did at the end.

On 11 September 2001, I awoke to a world-wide change. Someone hit reboot on the system and the universe we once knew was no longer. I’d just hung up the phone with my at-the-time-girlfriend, Jessica – who lived in Brownsville then. She was getting ready to go to school and I was getting ready to go back to bed. See, insomnia hit me hard that year. I was a high school graduate with no ambition of going to college. My senior year nearly left me off in the deep end. Stress and emotions I couldn’t handle were getting the better of me. Soon, sleep became a luxury I was jealous others could afford.

After we said our I-love-yous, I wrapped myself back in the covers and attempted to sleep. But this nagging feeling was tugging at my strings, urging me to give it up and turn on the TV. Normally, I’m a man of empirical evidence, not hunches. It was seven or so in the morning and there couldn’t possibly be anything I was missing out on. Either way, the restlessness overwhelmed me and I turned the TV on to see the first tower. The smoke billowed. It was on the Today Show. Matt Lauer was going on, but nothing was registering.

The World Trade Center had been attacked before and would – I assumed – be attacked again. This was no biggie. I just mutter, “Must really suck to work there.”

When footage of the second plane slamming into the other tower appeared on the air, my heart stopped. This was no accident. This was human nature at its best.

Most people’s instincts told them to pray that the people were all right. My lack of a spiritual form, however, knew that nothing could undo or save those people who were caught above the hit zone. Realization must’ve set in for those people, as well. Soon after, people were leaping from a burning grave into the concrete below. They were taking their own destiny/fate by the throat and saying, “Only by my hand.” Those deaths became so ingrained in our popular culture, whether we choose to accept it or not. Falling man, especially.

My friend, Monica T., jumbled to call me. Jessica called me from school. Their voices were panicked, anger spilling in. Meanwhile, I was lost in another world. A world torn apart from this one. One where nothing like this happened because human nature had to be good. How naive to believe that anything nature throws at us will still beautiful forever.

When the towers fell, reporters were comparing it to the onslaught brought on by the alien space crafts from the movie Independence Day. What a juxtaposition, I thought. I watched, as I assumed the world watched, as they came crumbling down. People covered in the soot of hatred. Some were lost in the clouds, buried forever in the earth of the ignorant. If I could, I’d probably had been crying for their deaths. I wanted so badly to cry for them, to feel some ounce of human connection, emotion. To show my anger toward the assholes who brought this upon innocent people.

The day slipped into night and slipped into morning. The footage was shown around the clock. Musicians took it upon themselves to write ballads. Actors spoke on TV. Politicians put aside ideology. It was as if the ugly has wrought something good. A sense of unity. A unity, I knew, that couldn’t exist, wouldn’t sustain on all our hate.

The world is an ugly place, Mr. Frodo. But there is good. And that good might be something worth saving. But how could I possibly believe that then? How could I believe it now? Has personal current events outshine the world’s?

We haven’t learned anything from 9/11. That sense of patriotic unity washed away when personal agendas and unfounded Weapons of Mass Destruction filled out TV screens. If the goal on September 11 was to tear down our moral fiber, our freedoms and our ethics, then the terrorists won. Because war doesn’t breed peace. It breeds hate. It breeds more terrorism. It breeds stupidity, murderers and xenophobia. It breeds ignorance.

So where were you when the towers fell, you ask. I was at home. Watching TV. Waiting for the world to resume as it always had. As it always will.

life in reverse:

Writing & Writers

The Day The Whole World Went Away

...in his voice I heard decay

I had that dream again.

The crescendo heard a world away – Mackie awoke to the sound. Sweat – cold? – slicked his body. Beside him, Angel – who slept soundly even during the loudest storms – traversed parallel dimensions. Cobey should’ve called by now.

Autumn was in the distance, Mackie saw looking out the painted window. A shit job. Make a note never to allow anyone other than myself to create an artificial night.

“Come back to bed,” the voice said. “There’s nothing to see here.”

“It’s like I relive it every day,” Mackie said. “And I cannot erase it from my memory.”

“Come back to bed,” the voice repeated. “It’ll be okay when you wake up.”

Shot glass by the typewriter spilled over. A few empty bottles of pills – dietary? sleep aids? over the counter medications used as narcotic substitutes? the fuzz was cracking down on things like that. you couldn’t buy anything without showing an ID and the pharmacist writing down your information down in a little book.

Freedom with a price, isn’t that what they said? After the horrible sounds. Were we ever free in this world, or was that all imaginary?

“So where were you?” The question asked around the world. Followed by, “What were doing?”

“I’d just awaken,” he’d say. “It was hard for me to sleep, even in those days. I closed my eyes and just tried to drift off, but something kept calling me to turn on the TV.”


“And I saw the footage on a continuous loop.”

“What did you think?”

“Must really suck to work there.”