America, The Imperial

Sherwood Ross

I write to you in my last hour
In the last hour of the night
The hour of fear before the light
The hour of persecution and execution
Of the headsman’s bloody institution
Of prisoners dragged from their cells
Hearts pounding, legs trembling
Piss-soaked with fright.

I write to you from the land of discredited dreams
Of delicate white petals spilled upon the floor
Like semen wasted in the fingers of a whore
Of American dreams twisted into nightmares
Of a president’s lying schemes
For which Christ has no parable, no metaphor.
I write to you when poets are beaten in the streets
When students are shot dead for protesting war
When men earn their bread making killing machines
And never question what their work is for.

I will show you the land of the dying cities
Where the many see little hope to get ahead
Where few among the poor wear caps and gowns
And lines are lengthening for hot soup and for bread.
The gardens of pleasure of my youth are withered
The gray Tudor mansions stand in ruins along the beach
I would not dare to step inside and eat a peach.
High winds off the Atlantic drive the rain
Through the broken shards of windowpane
And the wind slams the unlocked doors
And tidal surges spill over the window sills and rot the floors.

In America, The Imperial,
The generals are solemn, the generals are stiff
Their work requires perpetual attention
To details: “Send this detail here! Send that detail there!”
After all, war is no Saturday sail on a pleasure skiff
War is a guided missile fired from a battleship.
War is the champagne of the Pentagon brass
Intoxicating! Effervescent!
Billion dollar bubbles of planned obsolescence
Step right up and try the latest weapons
We got your wars right here!
Cold wars! Hot wars!
Chocolate and vanilla
Step right up and kill a guerrilla!”

I write to you of Panama and Viet Nam
From the ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan
Of nations where our armies’ flags have flown
And from Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, and Iran
Among the many nations we have overthrown.
I write of plots to shake the planet from its course
Not cheap schemes to fix the action on the Paris bourse
But to move great armies onto foreign soil
To gain control of pipeline routes and precious oil.

I will take you to the dungeon
I will take you to the cell
Let us pay an uninvited visit
To one American white hell.

Hakim was an Afghan artisan
Wrongly thrown in jail
The Americans allowed no lawyers
No Red Cross and no bail
They forced him to go naked
They shaved off his beard and hair
When they put the hood over his head
He thought he’d die for lack of air.
Hakim had nothing to confess to
Still, they knocked him to the floor
Soldiers stomped his back and kicked his legs
Until he could stand no more
They chained his hands to the ceiling
For ten days and ten nights
Longer than Jesus hung on Calvary
So much for human rights.

Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now and in the hour of our death.

Hakim pleaded and begged,
“Tell me which way is Mecca?
Let me face the holy city.”
But the soldiers denied him
Hakim pleaded and begged,
“Let me read my Qur’an”
Yet the soldiers denied him again
And their boots made pulp of his legs
So that he never again would stand.
Hakim believed that in the end time
He would see his wife and children
For the Qur’an prophesied the Qiyamah
When God will pass judgment upon all men
And Hakim believed loved ones would be reunited in His mercy.
How his family must wonder of his whereabouts
For he vanished from the earth and from their sight
Rendered, kidnapped by the Americans
And subjected to shrieking music, blinding light.

Holy Mary, mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now and in the hour of our death.

Doctor Abraham Finerman in his last days
Named for the father of his race
Reflected melancholy, his grave face sad.
He had lived too long; he had seen too much
And endured nightmares he could not erase.
Once the idealistic, studious student
From a renowned science high school in the Bronx
He owed his medical education to the Army
And so he performed for them as he was told
They made of him the arbiter of
How much pain prisoners’ could endure
Abraham, how quickly you grew old!
It was strictly against the Hippocratic Oath
Sworn to do no harm, he went along when
He might have resigned. Let this man
Hang in chains ten hours more
Let that man shiver naked overnight
Upon the rough, concrete prison floor.
Some were dead in the morning, doctor,
Some were dead. Others by the thousands
By the ten thousands
By the hundred thousands
Dragged from their homes
Never prosecuted, never even charged
Flung into a hundred prisons
From Thailand to Morocco
From Poland to Iraq
By the United States of Corrections
Jailer to the world! King of Incarcerations!
Prisons in abandoned airplane hangers
Prisons in open, uncovered fields
Prisons in the holds of creaking ships
Prisons in CIA compounds
Prisons on islands in the tropic seas
Secret prisons in secret places
A “safe house” in downtown Bucharest, Romania,
A riding academy in rural Lithuania
Prisons for ghost prisoners
Prisons for forgotten men, forgotten faces
Prisons hidden from the Red Cross
Prisons of the hopeless
Prisons of the lost
Prisons of the Yankee double cross
Prisons of men
Of women
Of girls
Of boys
Stripped of their clothing
Their dignity, their rights
Set upon by maddened dogs
Bathed night and day in artificial lights
Teenage girls hosed with icy water
“Why are you doing this to me?” One
Girl kept crying. “Because you are a
Terrorist, it’s no use denying.”
Teen boys assaulted by criminal guards
Here are tortured Everyman’s son
Everyman’s daughter
Children covered with mud before their father’s eyes
Men told to talk or the jailers would rape their wives
A seraglio of suffering Made in USA
A quarter of a million arrested in error
In the name of the fraudulent War on Terror
As one Arab businessman
Wrongly imprisoned would crack:
“I’ve bought my last Cadillac.”

And many a man they accused of jihad
They threw in isolation until he was driven mad.

I write to you in the hour of the false dawn
When morning only deepens the darkness
When prisoners yearn for the sun and there is no sun
Only the white lights of their illuminated rooms
The twenty-four hour lights of their illuminated tombs.
The twenty-four silence of their isolation cells.
The twenty-four hour lights of their illuminated tombs.
The twenty-four hour silence of their isolated hells.
The twenty-four hour lights of their illuminated tombs.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners,
Now and in the hour of our death.

While doctor Finerman examined Hakim’s swollen legs and hands
The guard said, “He’s talking crazy, out of his head.”
“Remove the chains,” Finerman replied,
Thinking the man was close enough to being dead.
And on his watch too many Hakims had already died.

Hakim could not know his wife came seeking him each day
She came so often to police headquarters to inquire
The Americans threatened to arrest her as well
By now she guessed Hakim suffered inside an isolation cell
Nothing now remained of her but smoldering desire
To prepare herself for martyrdom
To perish quickly in the explosion and the fire.
On her last morning she kissed her darling children
Not letting them know it was for the last time ever
And went to those making the jihad
And they strapped the explosive belt around her waist
She thought of Hakim jailed since the American invasion
And the blast took out the walls of the police station.

The Army gave doctor Abraham a medal
Which he felt obliged to keep, yet
The medal ceremony repeated frighteningly
In his sleep as he turned and tossed
Abe dreamed it was the Nazis
That gave him the Iron Cross. Well he knew why
The medal gleamed upon his breast
Why he was promoted to colonel
Just before his discharge; why he was
Sent into retirement for a well deserved rest
To enjoy the lilacs from the hammock in his own back yard
Even doctors’ now must have a changing of the guard.
His promotion: payment for services rendered
He had passed each loyalty test and thought
“How easily to evil I surrendered!”
His wife, Naftalia, wondered
About the dreams of which Abe never spoke
His moaning, tossing, his psychosomatic cough
His integrity gone up as in a puff of crematorium smoke
Abe lived like a man with his skin peeled off.

Imperial America!
Once the land of the free! Once the proud
Land of the Wright Brothers, Edison, creativity
Edison who gave the world the phonograph,
The motion picture, Hollywood, the electric light
The inventor whose genius transformed night
Into day---an American and a benefactor
Of all humankind, honest and proud,
A man of a thousand inventions
Sprouting like dreams from his fertile mind.
So different from today’s death scientists
In the Pentagon’s secret laboratories
Hunched over the incubators of germ warfare,
Space warfare, nuclear warfare,
Shells with radioactive ammunition
Creating infants in Iraq stillborn with one eye
And other unimaginable grotesque conditions.
Behold the progeny of gangster presidents,
War criminals, and liars
Whose Statue of Liberty
Shines wrapped in barbed wire.

Hakim was among those let go
Crippled for life,
Crushed when he learned of his martyred wife
As long as he had breath, he would tell the tale
Americans are torturing the innocent
Inside a hundred hellish jails
Each president claims he’s Christian
But Jesus denounced perdition
What sane man turns back the clock
To the Spanish Inquisition?

O, beware Americans! Americans beware!
We are slaving on the pyramid of Pharaoh
Slaving on his monument to death
Building his war machine with every sucking breath
O, beware humanity! Humanity beware!
With our deadly, flying chariots
We are become a nation of Iscariots.

Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.


Sherwood Ross is an American whose poetry has been published on local television in Miami and broadly on the Internet. He worked as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and the Chicago Daily News, as a workplace columnist for wire services, as News Director for a major civil rights organization, as host of a Washington, D.C., radio talk show, and as a public relations consultant to scores of national magazines, growing businesses, colleges and universities. His has written articles for national magazines and is the author of two plays on Japan, “Baron Jiro,” produced at Live Arts Theatre, Charlottesville, Va., and “Yamamoto’s Decision,” read at the National Press Club. Contact: © 2010 by Sherwood Ross


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