The only permanent thing is the soul,
and what has happened to it.
Patrick Kavanagh

Like a dancer covered in nothing
but white powder, then sponged

with course brown makeup;
nothing else in plain sight

but silver anklets; arms
extended to take

the tribute of a guard’s embrace.
We are watching from behind;

though, there are no flowers,
no curtain. And it’s not a ballet.

It’s a macabre charade,
one night in the secret

theater of Abu Ghraib.
The anklets are shackles.

In another, a leashed
dog — loud, black,

and snarling — takes
center stage. And, in others,

real men, looking like oddly
manipulated Kachina dolls

or naked degraded marionettes
in medieval hoods —

their elbows akimbo —
are paraded, strung erect,

wired, collapsed;
are stacked into a pile.

“Save us
from noisy oblivion;

from despair. Save us,
one by one,

from Roman cruelty;
from death

by water;
from death

by fire. Save us
from being eaten alive.”

Scott Hightower's third collection of poems, Part of the Bargain, received the 2004 Hayden Carruth Award. Hightower was on the panel The Poet As Historian in the 21st Century: A Rare Opportunity in Difficult Times at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010. This poem was first published in I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights (Lost Horse Press), edited by Melissa Kwasny and M.L Smoker.

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