Blades open the earth, with a smell
like blood or bread rubbed to crumbs.
News of my darkening country has me
thinking of poets slaughtered by tyrants,
of Mandelshtam, Lorca, Miklós Radnóti,
and poems from prison and from exile,
Nâzım Hikmet, Liao Yiwu, Dennis Brutus.
Their arrest warrants cringe for shame of the same
graceless brute’s signature. The punctured walls
close their eyes and brace for another wave of lead.
Come summer, when the cornfield simmers
in braided tassels, would I dare unravel myself,
as a beaten book frees letters from its pages,
or the flossy, seeded syllables of milkweed fluff.
Don’t lie, I want to shout at someone, torture is
never for information, always for the pleasure
of the torturer, or to stamp the state on a body,
which is the same thing. Then a raw gust
tosses gulls above the plowed furrows
where they have come to pluck
small soft bodies, and shrieking
they hold themselves stiffly in place,
beating against the wind, working
hard not to be blown backward.