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With Eyes on the Kitchen Table


On my kitchen table, there is a photo of a prisoner

wearing a hood & electrical wires, forced to stand

on a box with arms outstretched.


Who would order the sort of torture

that human-sculpts a prisoner into a Christ-like figure?

Aren't the contradictions too obvious even


for "military intelligence"? And who would quietly

take the photo, etching this moment for eternity?

These last few weeks, I've been talking


to the guy in the picture. I asked him what his

name was, whether he has a family, is he able

to return, does he have permanent physical


scars, were there slits in that hood enabling

him to see his torture, did he think the hood

was meant to look like a Klan hood, was


the Christ pose supposed to insult his religion?

I asked whether and how often they sent electro

shocks through those wires and were wires


really hooked to genitals as rumored, had they beaten

him before and after this pose? After a week

of my questions I began to feel terrible for adding


more queries he was in no position to volunteer

to answer. Shifting gears, I started alternating

between apologies on behalf of America's


true majority, then changing my mind & assuring

him most Americans would never condone

such unconscionable action, that we were separate


from our current administration & were really not

responsible, though I would not be able to offer many

certainties until the November results were in. Unsure


in the end whether a personal apology was warranted

or would be seen helpful, I promised the guy I would

speak up, that one day in America the buck would stop


with each of us, not excluding our elected leaders––

but not even a vow of activism could elicit even a hint

of absolution from the guy in the photo. It was


the kind of visual testimony that creates a bubble shame

out of thin air, which spreads across all known

physical, psychological, and multimedia boundaries.


And then there were other photos, naked pyramids

of chained humiliation, men with fist-sized chunks

of thigh-flesh ripped off bones by military dogs, bluing


corpses packed in army shower ice, smiling torturers

framing mad power's most wretched wounds, videos

of U.S. soldier rapes thus far only privately screened


in congressional curtained rooms. Pull those drapes away

so we can look into the victims' eyes and experiment

with magic word combinations from now until that day. 



[Originally published in NHS 2005, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs05/eliot_katz.html.]