Ghost Prisoner

By Heid E. Erdrich

This prisoner and other “ghost detainees” were hidden largely to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from monitoring their treatment and conditions, officials said.
                              —“Rumsfeld Ordered Iraqi Suspect Held as ‘Ghost’ Prisoner,”
                                                                      San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 2004

The ghost prisoner, a murderer,

wishes he was invisible, sheer air,

already dead. His narrow bed

washes him away to dream escape

through holy gaps that open

in the grin of his small son.

Lost teeth offer him a freedom

so absurd he wakes and laughs.

No one hears the ghost prisoner.

Whether he groans or bears stoically

what instruments we’ve paid to play

this march toward a freedom so absurd

we wake and silently shake our heads.

We do not speak ill of the dead.

The ghost prisoner, still murderer,

wishes he was visible, fiery air,

rallying the dead. His narrow cell

just the place for prayer. Holy, holy,

a ghost’s revenge pushed through gaps

in his own gashed mouth, a curse

so absurd, he wakes to its howl.

No one says his name, his crimes,

how many jolts it took to resurrect

him as a betrayer of insurrection,

paying for freedom’s ring.

We do not want to know what it took.

We’d rather not speak the dead ill.

We do not want to know what it took

to make him wish he were dead still.