loose strife [Listen closely as I sing this]

Listen closely as I sing this. The man standing at the gate
tottering on his remaining limb is a kind of metronome, his one
leg planted firmly on the earth. Yes, I have made him beautiful
 
because I aim to lay all my cards on the table. In the book review
the critic writes, “Barry seeks not to judge but to understand.”
Did she want us to let her be, or does she want
 
to be there walking the grounds of the old prison on the hill
of the poison tree where comparatively a paltry twenty thousand
died? In the first room with the blown up
 
black-and-white of a human body gone abstract someone has
to turn and face the wall not because of the human pain
represented in the photo but because of her calmness,
 
the tranquility with which she tells us that her father
and her sister and her brother were killed. In graduate school
a whole workshop devoted to an image of a woman with bleach
 
thrown in the face and the question of whether or not
the author could write, “The full moon sat in the window
like a calcified eye, the woman’s face aglow with a knowingness.”
 
I felt it come over me and I couldn’t stop. I tried to pull myself
together and I couldn’t. They were children. An army of child
soldiers. In the room papered with photos of the Khmer Rouge
 
picture after picture of teenagers, children whose parents
were killed so that they would be left alone in the world
to do the grisly work that precedes paradise.
 
And the photos of the victims, the woman holding her newborn
in her arms as her head is positioned in a vise, in this case
the vise an instrument not of torture
 
but of documentation, the head held still as the camera captures
the image, the thing linking all their faces, the abject fear
and total hopelessness as exists
 
in only a handful of places in the history of the visible world.
For three $US per person she will guide you through what was
Tuol Sleng prison, hill of the strychnine tree.
 
Without any affectation she will tell you the story of how
her father and her sister and her brother went among
the two million dead. There are seventy-four forms
 
of poetry in this country and each one is still meant to be sung.
 

Quan Barry, "loose strife [Listen closely as I sing this]" from loose strife.  Copyright © 2015 by Quan Barry.  All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Source: loose strife (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)