Thursday, April 23, 2009

266, the Sum of Democracy

In the April 20 edition of the New York Times, the front-page headline over a one inch column of print declares that two terrorist detainees were waterboarded 266 times by the CIA, according to declassified CIA documents. One detainee was waterboarded 183 over a span of 30 days. That breaks down to 6 times a day.

Here’s what I continually come back to, in the mind numbing brutality of this…some one counted. Someone, after each session, recorded it, faithfully, dutifully. 266. Not 265. Not 260. Not more than 100 times, not more than 200 times, not even less than 300 times. 266. Thinking it important. Thinking that someone would want to know.

Did they write this in a notebook? A little black book with spiral binding? Did they develop their own shorthand? Did their language grow more spare as the number climbed, no longer words but simply letters and numbers, gasping for breath, W B 8/15/02?

Did they stand off in the corner, scribbling the details, a few drops at a time, while the events were still fresh, the floor still wet? Or did they wait until the end of the day, sitting alone at a computer in a dark room with a single bulb burning above the keyboard, and blurt it all out at once?

And, what did they want from those who would read it? Praise? Understanding? Pity? Admiration? Respect? Gratitude? Protection?

After 266 times, does any of that matter?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Everything Overlooked (a poem in one try)

I have turned off the TV
to write this
and now the night's neglected children;
the ticking cuckoo clock,
the refrigerator humming,
the traffic hissing on Fulton,
the spattering rain on the windows,
the sighing floorboards,
the walls shifting the change
in their pockets,
the dried yellow ficus leaf
dropping to the blue rug,
step into the room from out of the
blaring shadows
stand here blinking,
shifting noiselessly
from foot to foot
"we have someone for you to meet,"
they say
and this scrawny thing steps up
looking defiant and lost
and they say, "it's your life
we've done the best we could with him
take him now, he belongs to you."
But I'm not falling for that again
what do they take me for anyway?
I grab the remote
it's 11:03 and I'm missing the news.

Copyright: Charles Oberkehr

Thursday, April 02, 2009


When you look into the mirror
You are not alone
Every year someone else is with you
Relatives you never knew
In ragged wool coats from the old world
Big dreams and lint in their pockets

Who am I? you will ask them one morning
In a moment of weakness
Do not expect an answer
Beyond the nose on your face.

copyright: Charles Oberkehr