Walking down Baltimore Avenue West Philadelphia
grey winter twilight,
stone obelisk shrieks, catches my eye and jerks it
jerks it to the cemetery.
Brooding stone finger over whose dead bodies,
those of original indigents, outcasts, and the
immigrant veterans wounded in America's wars
Are there bars on the windows?
VA hospital squat and sphinxlike
imagining pale overcrowded hazy rooms.
Lighting a cigarette from machine in wall --
"kissing the wall" we called it.
Are there leather restraints on your wrists and ankles and foreign
barbarians playing needles on every groove in your brain over and over
until they have satisfied their inquisitorial curiosity
and you're not supposed to remember any of it
not even the Japanese smirking lobotomist and his sadistic reveries
Are there places in your mind which if unbandaged suddenly
ooze, then bleed, even though they hadn't occurred to you in years?
Are there lovers who have torn you apart, whom you have devoured
without knowing, beyond caring just because it hurts?
Are there sisters of charity to pluck the lice
from the suppurating grooves of your emotional brain?
The torture is real.
Are you too polite to mention it?
Do you surmise that your personal season in hell was good for your fortitude,
That you have gained something and grown in the experience?
Was it not as bad as you had imagined?
Listen to me it was real!
Yes, they were trying to destroy you.
Never mind who -- they'll elude you for ever.
They were trying to grind out your reason, turn you into some lackspittle dog
to bark and whine at their whims, to parade on a leash.
They are evil -- never mind why.
You lost some years which will never return. In some sense you're a cripple.
But you woke up this morning clothed in your right mind.