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Monday, July 03, 2006
New Poetry by Ravi Shankar
The sweat that pooled in the rubber lining of the goggles was the worst, worse than tang of leather and cut of the bit in my mouth from the face restraint, worse than the ear muffs that clamped my head in hundred degree heat, worse even than being forced to pee in a bucket in front of the guards and other inmates to slurs about my limp Muslim prick. Something about the seeping, itchy moisture that couldn’t be scratched jangled my nerves the loudest, when I kneeled on a strip of gravel, hands restrained behind me, waiting for my dinner. My cage was next to an Alsatian’s who had an air-conditioned pen and grass to run on. “He’s a member of the US Army,” a doleful guard with a crew cut and a camera used to explain, “that dog born free. Not you boys.” The Extreme Reaction Force, when they rushed through our cells in riot gear to pound us with mop ends and batons, didn’t address us at all. The strippers who appeared infrequently would preen, dab our cheeks with freshly used tampons, stand gyrating their asses in front of the most devout of us, then pucker their assholes, moaning, to feed in fingers of pages ripped from the Qur’an. The British prisoners would catcall to get them over to their cages but they only got pliable biscuits, coppery water, and like-milk. When they dragged Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef off for delousing, he lay limp but shouted excerpts from the Geneva Convention at his escorts, “No physical or mental torture! Nor any other form of coercion! May be inflicted on prisoners of war! To secure from them information of any kind! Whatever! Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened! Insulted! Or exposed! To unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind!" He returned without further comment or his beard. They wanted to look into our souls but only to confirm what they already felt certain they would find there. Sometimes on my knees, before the orange hood was raised, the blindfold bound, I faced the hills, past the hurricane fencing and towers shored up with scavenged poles, past the concertina wires girding the perimeter, into the pincushions of tobacco plants and greenery blowing in the distance, into a summery murmur, a barely discernable rumor about broad straw hats, steaming plates of Sofrito, caiprin has flecked with ground mint, waterfalls of horns and congo drums, whorls of colors merging and parting on bare-feet. Those moments, before I was led by leash back into the cell, I was no less than God.
Ravi Shankar is a poet-in-residence at Central Connecticut State University and the founding editor of the internationally acclaimed online journal of the arts, http://www.drunkenboat.com. His first book Instrumentality, was published by Cherry Grove in May 2004 http://www.cherry-grove/shankar and was named a finalist for the 2005 Connecticut Book Awards.
His work has previously appeared in such places as The Paris Review, Poets & Writers, Time Out New York, The New Hampshire Review, Blackbird, Gulf Coast, The Massachusetts Review, Descant, LIT, Crowd, The Cortland Review, Catamaran, Caketrain, Fourth River, 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, The Paris/Atlantic, Ecopoetics, The Indiana Review, The Electronic Book Review, Western Humanities Review, The Iowa Review, Smartish Pace, and the AWP Writer’s Chronicle, among other publications, including two anthologies of contemporary poetry. He has taught at Queens College, University of New Haven, and Columbia University, where he received his MFA in Poetry. He has read at such venues as The National Arts Club, Columbia University, KGB, the Asia Society, Artspace, University of Virginia, the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and the Cornelia Street Café, has held residencies from the MacDowell Colony, Ragdale, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, has served on panels at UCLA, Poet’s House, South-by-Southwest Interactive/Film Festival, and the AWP Conference in Baltimore and Vancouver, been a commentator for NPR, KKUP and Wesleyan radio and been featured in the Hartford Courant, The Journal Messenger and in the Shoreline Press, reviews poetry for the Contemporary Poetry Review and is currently editing an anthology of South Asian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern poetry. You can read an interview with him at: http://jacketmagazine.com/16/dev-iv-shank.html.