All Commentary
Monday, June 10, 2013

Outside the Complex

For those in Guantanamo

Close enough to see
only their shadows
flickering in distant

metal cages against
prison searchlights.
Close enough to hear

the recorded call
to prayer, sounded
over loudspeakers,

crickets and crashing
surf, human voices
gathering. He could

not see, aiming his
microphone at scraps
of their singing.

If he could hear them,
would their hearts tick
like timers, soft

as plastique, hard-wired
to blow apart? If he could
see them, would he see

the ghosts of faces
he thought he might know
but not place in time?

The embers of their song
lifted from the licks
of some fire invisible

to him, untranslatable
as taps on the underground
pipes hammered by sailors

in the crippled Kursk.
Were they trying to
open a hull into certain

death? Were they saying
we can’t breathe much longer
in the depths of this sea,

and lift us back to surface?
He drove back home,
played the tapes he made

outside the complex, and heard
only the surf exploding
against rocky shore, wind

whipping the sand.

  • Philip Metres is the author of several books of poems, including Sand Opera, winner of the 2013 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, A Concordance of Leaves (Diode 2013), abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine, 2011) and To See the Earth (Cleveland State, 2008). His work has garnered two NEA fellowships, four Ohio Arts Council grants, the Arab American Book Award, and the Cleveland Arts Prize, among other honors. He is a professor of English at John Carroll University.