The sweat that pooled in the rubber lining of the goggles was the worst, worse than tang of leather and cut of bit in my mouth from the face restraint, worse than the ear muffs that clamped my head in hundred degree heat, worse even than being forced to pee in a bucket in front of the guards and other inmates to slurs about my wormy prick. Something about the seeping, itchy moisture that couldn’t be scratched drove me craziest as I waited, kneeling on a strip of gravel, hands restrained behind me, for my dinner. My cage was next to an Alsatian’s who had an air-conditioned pen and grass to run on. “He’s a member of the US Army,” a doleful guard with a crew cut and a camera used to explain, “that dog born free. Not you boys.” The Extreme Reaction Force, when they rushed through our cells in riot gear to pound us with mop ends and batons, didn’t address us at all. The strippers who appeared too infrequently would preen, dab our cheeks with freshly used tampons, stand gyrating their asses in front of the most devout of us, then pucker their assholes, moaning, to feed in fingers of pages ripped from the Qur’an. The British prisoners would catcall to get them over to their cages but they only got pliable biscuits, coppery water, and like-milk. When they dragged Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef off for delousing, he lay limp but shouted excerpts from the Geneva Convention at his escorts, “No physical or mental torture! Nor any other form of coercion! May be inflicted on prisoners of war! To secure from them information of any kind! Whatever! Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened! Insulted! Or exposed! To unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind!” He returned without a recap or his beard. They wanted to look into our souls but only to confirm what they already felt certain they would find there. Sometimes on my knees, before the orange hood was raised, the blindfold bound, I faced the hills, past the hurricane fencing and towers shored up with scavenged poles, past the concertina wires girding the perimeter, into the pincushions of tobacco plants and greenery blowing in the distance in summery murmur, a barely discernible rumor about broad straw hats, steaming plates of Sofrito, caiprinhas flecked with ground mint, waterfalls of horns and congo drums, whorls of colors merging and parting on bare-feet. Those moments, before I was led by leash back into the cell, I was no less
~ Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar founded the arts journal Drunken Boat, and is author of seven books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently the 2010 National Poetry Review Prize winner, ‘Deepening Groove’. He co-edited W.W. Norton’s ‘Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia’, the Middle East & Beyond and teaches at CCSU & in City University of Hong Kong’s MFA program.