Six hours, stretched in the sun, yes.

Tonight I was fortunate to encounter a poem that I think must be shared.  It is an excerpt of Denise Levertov’s poem, “On a Theme from Julian’s Chapter XX.”

Six hours outstretched in the sun, yes,/ hot wood, the nails, blood trickling/into the eyes, yes—/ but the thieves on their neighbor crosses/ survived till after the soldiers/ had come to fracture their legs, or longer./ Why single out this agony? What’s/ a mere six hours?/ Torture then, torture now,/ the same, the pain’s the same,/ immemorial branding iron,/ electric prod.

Hasn’t a child/ dazed in the hospital ward they reserve/ for the most abused, known worse?/ This air we’re breathing,/ these very clouds, ephemeral billows/ languid upon the sky’s/ moody ocean, we share/ with women and men who’ve held out/ days and weeks on the rack—/ and in the ancient dust of the world/ what particles/ of the long tormented,/ what ashes.

I have been hearing and reading, over and over like a relentless beating of waves against a shoreline, the revelations about torture coming out in our headlines.  Torture isn’t new, and the story isn’t “hot” because people, men and boys we have been taught and learned too well to fear, are being hurt and killed in the name of our country… we know this happens and simply choose to ignore it.  But these names and faces, often blacked out or covered in hoods, chests naked, tension and terror evident in the rigid lines of their arms strung behind their backs… these names and faces keep emerging during my daily reflections.  Pictures of young, white American soldiers sitting cross-legged on the backs of Iraqi men straining under their weight against cold concrete floors, being dragged across rooms, bent over tables.  Torture then, torture now, the same, the pain’s the same. Levertov’s poem has made me ask, once again, “Who is it that is uniquely Jesus among us right now?”  It is these men.  It is these boys.  He is an Iraqi terror suspect.  He is in Gitmo.  He has been breathing that air, the rancid air of men and women holding out on the rack, in the water tank, naked on a box in a cell without access to an attorney or family, he has been.  And if we do not listen to his voice and use our ears to hear, he will continue.

For another reflection on art and torture, view this waterboard torture memo set to music.


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