Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Laundry" by Alicia Ostriker: another installment of SPLIT THIS ROCK


Just finished folding laundry. There's the news. A slender prisoner, ankles shackled, nude back and legs striped by a brown substance you might take for blood but which probably is feces, hair long, arms extended at shoulder level like a dancer or like Jesus, walks toward a soldier with rolled-up pants and a gun, posed legs akimbo in the tiled corridor. I cannot say from the image if the soldier is smiling, too few pixels to tell. Barely do the prisoner's elegant feet touch the floor. In another nude photograph a prisoner with shorter hair cowers against a wall while two dogs whose leashes are held by soldiers examine him. I cannot say from the photograph if the dogs are snarling or drooling. And in this one a girl soldier holds the leash, which leads to the neck of a prisoner lying on concrete.

Oil oozes a mile or two underground. Like sand, it was once alive.

In another photo the nude prisoners have been formed into a pyramid. They look like something in the back of a butcher shop. A stack of magnified calves' livers. Now the girl soldier leaning over a bleeding prisoner--are those dog bites--gives the thumbs' up sign and smiles her toothy wholesome Homecoming Queen smile, a smile descended from a Good Housekeeping cover, twinkle twinkle little... Oil oozes a mile or so underground. Atop it stands a palace of air conditioning. Somewhere in the green zone is a swimming pool for the officers, its water chemically purified. Stagnant waters are also good--to the flies. As is blood. A fly's life there would be prosperous. I put away the laundry. I put my nose in the laundry, it smells warm and well. My husband's underpants and undershirts I lay in his dresser drawer. In my dresser drawer go my underpants and t-shirts.

The correct word is not prisoner. The correct word is detainee.

Speaking of correctness, some other terms have lately come into play: hooding, waterboarding, rendition. The bleaching of the news. The rinsing and spinning. Some of the laundry items are not quite dry, a knit sweater of mine, a flannel of his. I hang them on plastic hangers in the bathroom. The bathroom is tiled in white, the tub is tourmaline. Above our twin sinks hangs a large flat mirror in which we are obliged to see ourselves each day, and on the opposite wall, that is to say behind us when we stand at the sink, a Rodin watercolor sketch depicts a semi-nude woman in some sort of peach diaphanous garment, seated, holding one pink knee in her hands, her shaven pubes showing, the lines at once easy, comfortable, and elegant. The correct word is detainee. The sweaters hang patiently. The mirror ponders a rebuke.

-Alicia Ostriker
Used by permission.

Alicia Ostriker is a major American poet and critic. Twice nominated for a National Book Award, she is author of twelve volumes of poetry, most recently The Book of Seventy (2009), which won the Jewish Book Award for Poetry. Ostriker's poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Antaeus, The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Atlantic, MS, Tikkun, and many other journals, and have been widely anthologized. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, the San Francisco State Poetry Center, the Judah Magnes Museum, the New Jersey Arts Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ostriker lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband and is Professor Emerita of Rutgers University and a faculty member of the New England College Low-Residency Poetry MFA Program.

Ostriker was a featured poet at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witnes 2008 and on the panels Fire & Ink: A Social Action Writing Anthology, and the Rewards of Teaching Activist Writing and Birth and the Politics of Motherhood in Poetry at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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