The words “economic,” “family,” and “asylum” remain unspoken as I sit in the back of the courtroom scribbling on a legal pad, trying to structure a context and trace my relation to the seven men who stand before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles.
Reader, can you improvise your relation to the phrase “illegal entry,” to the large seal of US District Court, District of Arizona, that hangs above the judge, eagle suspended with talons and arrows pointing?
Perhaps your relation stretches like a wall, bends like footprints towards a road, perhaps your relation spindles and barbs, chollas or ocotillos, twists like a razor wire on top of a fence.
Perhaps you do not improvise, perhaps you shackle, you type, you translate, you prosecute, you daily wage, your mouth goes dry when you speak—paper, palimpsests of silence, palimpsests of complicity and connection never made evident on the page.
Write down everything you need. How long is the list?
Sleep with it beneath your head, eat it, wear it.
Can you use it to make a little shade from an unrelenting gaze?
Speak into the court record the amount of profit extracted from such men as those before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles not limited to the amount of profit that will be extracted from such bodies through the payments that will be made per prisoner per day to the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, but also inclusive of all the profits generated by trade agreements that makes labor in the so-called developing countries so cheap.
Best of luck to you, the judge says.
Que le vaya bien, the lawyers say as the men begin their slow procession out of the courtroom in chains.
And in that moment, from the back of the courtroom, we can decide to accept or forget what we have seen, to bear it, or to change it
because we love it, we want it, we don’t care enough to stop it, we hate it,
we can’t imagine how to stop it, we can’t imagine it, we can’t imagine.
From Defacing the Monument (Noemi Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Susan Briante. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t believe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.
Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org
I'm in the school bathroom washing my hands without soap but I'm still washing my hands. I turn the water off and look for a paper towel but paper towels have been gone since the first day of school and it's June now. I start to leave the bathroom with my wet hands but then the big boys come in talking loud and cussing like they rap stars or have new sneakers. I hear the one named Pinto talking about how someone should get Omar after school since he's the only Muslim they know. Pinto talks with an accent like he's new in the neighborhood too. I don't have to ask him what he's talking about since everybody is talking about the Towers and how they ain't there no more. My momma said it's like a woman losing both breasts to cancer and my daddy was talking at the dinner table about how senseless violence is and Mrs. Gardner next door lost two tall boys to drive-bys Bullets flying into both boys heads making them crumble too. Everybody around here is filled with fear and craziness and now Pinto and the big boys thinking about doing something bad. I stare at my wet hands dripping water on my shoes and wonder if I should run and tell Omar or just run. I feel like I'm trapped in the middle of one of those Bible stories but it ain't Sunday. I hear my Momma's voice saying Boy, always remember to wash your hands but always remember you can't wash your hands from everything. Nashville, TN 10/12/01
From How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love by E. Ethelbert Miller. Copyright © 2004 by E. Ethelbert Miller. Published by Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Dist. Reprinted by permission of Curbstone Press. All rights reserved.