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Incommunicado: Dispatches from a Political Prisoner

Marilyn Buck

September 11, 2001

I move
Julan hollers
      come        come see
      the world trade center's

she's not serious
no one would make that up
     would they?
live on TV
     video mantra
          replay: plane crash
          replay: collapse
          slow motion, dying morning

no not a made-for-TV movie
not a disaster film
not Hollywood special effects
     one tower falls
     the other follows

do chickens come home to roost?
enormity crashes
     dazed  disbelief
          (chickens won't roost here again
               pigeons either)

I, a political prisoner, can
conceive why
but comprehension is not complicity
     I look around me
     I know nothing
     I know too much
there is no answer in death
          nor in dying

I know
     soon others will die
     dark smoke spreads
     cinders of wrath rise
     the eagle's talons flex
     hungry for revenge

     (eyes locked on the shocking scene
     a Muslim sister whispers
               they will blame the Muslims)

I know
     many will feed the eagle
     the Palestinians?
          (Palestinians are always suspect)
Muslims?      Arabs?
          many will die red upon the land

I can't comprehend
men who commit suicide
taking civilians with them
     (a u.s. postal worker
     Columbine high school boys
     a man at McDonalds
          all-American suicide killers)

    used as warheads
        I shudder and walk away
            from death
                        to my cell
Bich Kim runs in
    if there's a world war three
    they will shoot all the prisoners, won't they?

I shake my head
I don't think so
    but you, political prisoners
    like you, won't they?
I hope not
            (question marks
            the corners of my mouth:
                what do I know
                about the fine-print)

I turn to sweep the floor
            find rhythms of the ordinary

The Order: 9 AM PDT

a tap
    I turn
a guard
    come with me

I won't return today

I stand before the captain
    we must lock you up
        for your own safety
(not for my safety)
    you're intelligent     you know why
I speculate, no
not for my safety
    you must be locked up
    just for your safety

I am
    stripped naked
    ID card confiscated
    everything taken
I need my glasses!
    keep the glasses

I keep a neutral face
    handcuffed behind the back
    clad in bile yellow for isolation
                                and flip-flops

I keep outrage
    wrapped within my fists
I swallow anger
    metal clangs swallow sound
the concrete cocoon swallows me

The "SHU": Special Housing Unit

    "there was an old woman
    she lived in a shoe"
        what did she do?

9/11    no prisoner may speak to you
            you may not speak to any prisoner
9/12     overheard voices
                there are terrorists here
                    who are the terrorists?
            silence, everyone behind her door listens
9/14     a legal call
            small relief: it's political -- Washington --
                not something i did
9/17     no more calls
            no visits
            no mail
                until further notice

i hang from a winding string
    winding in this cocoon
i breathe deep
    the air isn't good here

(from outside the walls Susan yells
    you are not alone)
i breathe deeper

Sunday i get a radio: KPFA lifeline
    Sikhs dead, detainees disappeared
    political prisoners buried deeper

i remember another September 11: Chile '73
    more than 3,000 dead
    tortured assassinated disappeared
        a CIA-supported coup
        (the WTC bombers not-yet-born)
    many people there still mourn
let us mourn all the dead
and the soon-to-die

i worry about the prisoners
isolation sucks at the spirit

i am furious: inferred association
held hostage in place of men
    with u.s. weapons and CIA training
        an infernal joke
the puppet masters laugh

i laugh to stay sane
before i explode in irony's flame

we are hostages
    to blood-thirsty oil men
    ready to splatter deserts
        with daisy-cutters
their collateral damage
    dead mothers and children
    dead mother earth
        dead daisies

(hasn't this happened before?
        u.s. cavalry and smallpox blankets
        special forces and blanket bombing)

(Susan is back
    she taps on the wall: you are not alone)

i walk around the edges
    how many walk on edges?
        what edges do the Palestinians walk?

cold radiates whitewashed
    walls press against my edges
        suspend animation
        no butterflies to break out
        no silken thread to weave sweet dreams

panic rises in my throat
    thick white choking cold
so cold
        i swing hope on a thread
a transparent sliver it crashes
against the cinderblocks
        i drop
frozen chrysalis
cold into a coffin box


i lay down on suspect blankets
a Cyclops light pins me
    onto the metal cot
        an altar for vengeful gods
    metal restraints for hands and feet
        "just in case"

the suicide cell has ghosts
    desperate women
    have lain here chained four-pointed
    to command composure
    sacrificed to voyeur visions
        through the glass starkly
        through a burqa window

i don't want to think of i
    i meditate
i think of other politicals
    behind wires and walls
i remember the assaulted
    the accidental
    the collaterally damaged
    killed, corrected, coerced
i remember: the u.s. funds the fundamentalists
                    Muslims Christians Zionists
                    self-righteous missiles
                    of mayhem and retribution

i remember Afghani women held hostage
    inside indigo cocoons
    cells smaller than a confessional box

    my veil is this cell
    i will put on no other
    except the veil of sleep

the light, damn the light
    the Cyclops spies
i toss between the tomb-thick walls
    how long will this go on?
    will my bones break
        into ice shards or will they desiccate
        stranded in this cell

at last i doze
till dawn     the Cyclops watches
clanging keys, slamming metal traps
    shift change
    daylight creeps inside
i rise: i must seek cycles
    without clocks or mirrors
    without all but i

The Weekend

a glacier, daylight advances
a plank of light teeters
    on the edge of board-faced windows
travels obliquely across
    then it's gone
warmth fades fast

the food trap opens
    cold eggs the color of our clothes
    plunk – weekend brunch
i swallow in silence

silence flees before sudden cacophony
two women beat plastic bowls on metal doors
    we want rec     we want rec
    the sun is out     we want out
my head is wrapped in metallic clanger
    bang     bang     bang
i stay silent
i bite my lip

hours pass: shift change 2:00
    the sun drops fast behind the wall
finally:     who wants recreation?
    I do
        me too
            let me out first
voices reach through the metal doors
food traps clank
handcuffs click
one by one women are led
    to wire cages
    joy rings louder than the chains

i wait
no guard comes
i break silence
    you didn’t ask me
disembodied denial echoes through the walls
    you can’t go with the others
    not my decision
i will miss the sundrops

"Perchance to Dream"

night comes
i fall exhausted into sleep
    i dream of Dresden Hanoi Baghdad
        whistles scream
        walls fall apart
            in waves
        Dali deserts
            watches tick

dream shift:
    swords of steel glint against the sky
    a swarm and puff
    dark blood drops
    bituminous birds bank
    spread-eagled free fall
    ashes ashes they all fall
        down dark flashes
    cherry splashes on concrete
    Babel towers collapse in crying heaps
    a curtain rises gray
    covers gladiators draped across the stage

i wake cold-throated
what time is it?
my limbs locked
beneath a concrete rockslide
is this my tomb falling on me?

my chest is piled rock-heavy
    bodies rise from the shallows of my breath
graze my eyes and flee
        across the desert scape
            shadow prints dissipate
am i awake?

the Cyclops stabs my eye
    i must be awake
i wrap a scratchy towel
around my face
i escape electric night
    into sightlessness

a ghost voice wails
    what time is it?
A deep male boom
        1:24, go to sleep
    no, turn on the radio, talk to me
no! no! please no, my eyes blink
inside their blind
    little Brueghel men dance
    wooden-shoe notes
    ruthless on my sleep
sound streams woman's babble
pools beneath the door
i hunker under the winding sheet

does she stop talking
or do i descend?
i don't remember

    shift change
        shift change
guards come and go
officials pass by peering
    into our crypt-cages
    taking notes, verifying

Monday, September 24

the captain appears
we may release you today after 2:00
2:00 comes and goes
the shift changes
i wait and wonder: will other politicals be released today
    i wait
hope is the moment's thief
    don't wait!

at last:     Buck roll out
i leap   a jack-in-the-box
the metal key clangs just before the 4:00 count
i gasp    relief
and hurry through before the gates slam
shut and i am left below
    Eurydice whom Orpheus glimpsed
                            a moment soon

i step out
a four o'clock unfolding, fuchsia in the shading light
back into the routine prisoner's plight

December 2001

This poem appeared in Joy James, editor, Imprisoned Intellectuals: America's Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion, 2003

Marilyn Buck at FCI Dublin 2003

Note: For the context of "Incommunicado" – the extraordinary solitary confinement and "banning" of political prisoners in the Federal system immediately following the attacks of 9/11, see "The Reality of Political Prisoners in the United States: What September 11 Taught Us about Defending Them" an article by attorney Soffiyah Elijah from the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal, [August] 2002. Get it here (in PDF format).