Ghost Prisoner

This prisoner and other “ghost detainees” were hidden largely to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from monitoring their treatment and conditions, officials said.
                              —“Rumsfeld Ordered Iraqi Suspect Held as ‘Ghost’ Prisoner,”
                                                                      San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 2004

The ghost prisoner, a murderer,
wishes he was invisible, sheer air,
already dead. His narrow bed
washes him away to dream escape
through holy gaps that open
in the grin of his small son.
Lost teeth offer him a freedom
so absurd he wakes and laughs.
 
No one hears the ghost prisoner.
Whether he groans or bears stoically
what instruments we’ve paid to play
this march toward a freedom so absurd
we wake and silently shake our heads.
We do not speak ill of the dead.
 
The ghost prisoner, still murderer,
wishes he was visible, fiery air,
rallying the dead. His narrow cell
just the place for prayer. Holy, holy,
a ghost’s revenge pushed through gaps
in his own gashed mouth, a curse
so absurd, he wakes to its howl.
 
No one says his name, his crimes,
how many jolts it took to resurrect
him as a betrayer of insurrection,
paying for freedom’s ring.
 
We do not want to know what it took.
We’d rather not speak the dead ill.
We do not want to know what it took
to make him wish he were dead still.
 

Heid E. Erdrich, "Ghost Prisoner" from National Monuments. Copyright © 2008 by Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
Source: National Monuments (Michigan State University Press, 2008)
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