Kent Johnson


Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, or: "Get the Hood Back On"

"…[T]he guard force should be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees… by MI (Military Intelligence)." —Maj. General Geoffrey Miller, Commanding officer of U.S. detention centers in Iraq, in internal policy recommendation report, August, 2003.

What's up, Ramal, I'm an American boy, a father, two children, graduate of Whitman High, where I was a member of the Science Club and Student Council, then I got to be the youngest elected officer ever in the history of my town's Rotary Chapter, I'm in charge of fund-raising, which hasn't been easy the past few years, what with the economy and all, but we're hanging in there. I hope you won't take this the wrong way, because I don't want to assault your sensibilities, or anything like that, but I want to be up front with you because I believe that honesty is the best policy: So, I'm going to put a pointed plastic hood on your black and blue head, and then I'm going to stand your caped body on a milk box, with live wires taped to your outstretched hands, and then I'm going to count to ten, you witch-like Arab freak, and maybe I'll flip the switch and maybe not, it all kind of depends. By the time you get to MI, you'll be softened up, and you'll tell us where the terrorists are.

Hi there, Hazaj, I'm an American girl, former Vice-President of the Heartland High Young Democrats and Captain of our Regional Championship pom-pom squad, which no one ever expected to even make it to the second round, it was just amazing, we had our pictures in all the papers and stuff, you should see my scrap book. I hope this isn't awkward and uncomfortable for you, and I hope you don't mind my starting out by just getting straight to the point and saying so: But I'm going to fuck you in the ass now with a fluorescent light tube, you sorry-assed, primitive thug. By the time you get to MI, you'll be softened up, and you'll tell us where all the hidden weapons of mass destruction are.

Welcome, Kamil, I'm an American girl, nineteen, pregnant, my Dad is an alcoholic, but my Mother is in recovery, with her own Daycare, and I'll be taking it over after the Army, I've always wanted to have my own business, and I'm going to expand beyond just one location, I'm not thinking small. And since I believe it is always important to say what one means and not beat around the bush, I want you to know something: I'm going to hold a pistol to your head and tell you to jack-off, while you recite the Koran as fast as you can, you heathen, Hell-bound fuck, and then I'm going to look at the camera with a cigarette dangling from my sultry, teenage lips, giving the thumbs up. By the time you get to MI, you'll be softened up, and you'll tell us where the missing evil Baathists are.

A pleasure to meet you, Khafif, I'm an American boy, former Homecoming King and now Little League coach and Assistant Manager in-training at Wal-Mart, which is providing jobs and low prices for our depressed area, which has been really hard hit ever since Maytag left town, life is tough sometimes. I hope you won't mind my directness, but I strongly believe men should say what they mean, without pulling any punches, so here's the deal: I'm going to shove a fifteen inch dildo down your mouth, while you crawl all over your naked comrades and they crawl all over you, as if you were all a pile of maggots crawling on the rotting body of a dead Imam—don't whimper, motherfucker, or I'll shove the rest of it in, you towel-headed, perverted piece of filth. By the time you get to MI, you'll be softened up, and you'll tell us where the gangster friends of Saddam's demonic sons are.

Nice to meet you, Tawil, I'm a single girl, with an on-line degree in Social Work, a member of the 700 Club and my church choir, and I'm completely against evolution, which goes against the Holy Bible, as you may or may not know, but in the new Iraq you'll get a better chance to know it for sure, and maybe you'll be saved. And because I believe people should always tell the truth to each other, no matter what their race or creed, I'm going to give it to you straight: I'm going to make you suck the cock of your comrade Wafir, until he comes in your mouth and you swallow it, unless you want to get packed in ice like all the other ones at all the other detention centers besides this one, and then I'm going to put a leather collar around your neck, because it's come down the chain of command, a long, long ways, and then I'm going to clip a leather leash onto it, and then I'm going to make you follow me down the long hallway of Abu-Ghraib, squirming like a slug, crying out in falsetto the names of your tent-wearing wife and your babbling, lice-ridden sons. By the time you get to MI, you'll be softened up, and you'll tell us where all the videos and photos of Saddam's torture prisons are… We know they are somewhere, hidden in some deep, wet place, you Babylonian, porn-loving fag. And we're going to get what we want and what we need, no matter how deep down we have to dig. Look at the camera when I talk to you, asshole, or I'll go get the dog.

Hi there, Madid, I'm an American poet, twentyish, early to mid-thirtyish, fortyish to seventyish, I've had poems on the Poets Against the War website, and in American Poetry Review and Chain, among other magazines, and I have a blog, and I really dig Arab music, and I read Adorno and Spivak, and I'm really progressive, I voted for Clinton and Gore, even though I know they bombed you a lot, too, sorry about that, and I know I live quite nicely off the fruits of a dying imperium, which include anti-war poetry readings at the Lincoln Center and the Poetry Project, with appetizers and wine and New World Music and lots of pot. And because nothing is simple in this world, and because no one gets out unscathed, I'm going to just be completely candid with you: I'm going to box your ears with two big books of poems, one of them experimental and the other more plain speech-like, both of them hardbound and by leading academic presses, and I'm going to do it until your brain swells to the size of a basketball and you die like the fucking lion for real. You'll never make it to MI because that's the breaks; poetry is hard, and people go up in flames for lack of it everyday. By the time any investigation gets to you, your grandchildren will have been dead over one thousand years, and poetry will be inhabiting regions you can't even begin to imagine. Well, we did our best; sorry we couldn't have done better… I want you to take this self-righteous poem, soak it in this bedpan of crude oil, and shove it down your pleading, screaming throat.

Now, get the hood back on.

fr. Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz
[Effing Press, 2005]

John Beer reviews Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz
Pedja Kojovic interviews Kent Johnson

Previous "Death on All Fronts"      "Death on All Fronts" Index      Next "Death on All Fronts"