A Prison Poem

I wrote this for America where I wept
In America where I could not sleep
I wrote this in my homeland where I keep counsel
with the founding fathers and the founding mothers
and the dreams Chief Joseph wrought
when he threw down his arms
before shock and awe

I wrote this in America where I find myself
being born day in and day out

I thought this poem up in America on the day they showed
a soldier treat a naked Iraqi man as if he were a dog
simply because she had weapons of mass destruction
trained on his body in a prison near Babylon

I made this poem in America
on an assembly line of anger and disgust

I wrote this while the Secretary of Defense
sat before the Congress, the lights were bright
and he could not open his eyes

I wrote for love
but love was lost
I wrote for freedom
but it is just a word
I wrote for dignity
but it belongs only to the rich and powerful
I wrote for God
but he was not home

God bless the other God
the good God who does not die
in a bath of blood
perpetually
on a wide screen

I am trapped, trapped like the President
trapped in the death of language
feeling lonely there

I’m the Secretary of Another War
a Deep War of Words

when I testify
bison stir the prairies
the grassland weeps:
“Give my country back to me”

America cannot hide from the world
as the chambers of torture reveal
just how anxious we’ve been
to seek an empire

I cry for American words
that slip out of pure street lingo gone wild
they were sweet in the farmland, clearheaded
when Jack Kerouac crossed the Rockies
sublimely joyous citizens covered their eyes in clouds
that folded-in on the folklore of hope
Give me the strength of President Lincoln and Martin Luther King
two voices who sang, two eagles who soared

I cry for American eyes

I cry-out for Iraqi poetry
for Iraqi pride, for their desire
for their lives, for their deep history

“simple eyes” see everything

where has our America gone?

who is innocent, anyway?

I want to cover the President with buddha
and free the prison guards
from their angry empty lives
and bring them language
as they have brought us
a landscape of fear

May 6/7 2004
San Francisco

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About Neeli Cherkovski

is writer-in-residence at New College of California in San Francisco. His books of poems include LEANING AGAINST TIME.