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Tribunal


The soldiers are bored
but their orders were strict:

give each a trial.
This takes a while—

twenty blamed men
kneeling in the parlor

of a home the Americans
have commandeered. One

mutters, puts his head down.
From the bedroom, the sound

of a rifle announces
its verdict. This man

isn’t praying, he only
looks it. All night,

he has composed his lines.
They’re not what he has learned

to say: “which way
to the checkpoint?” or

“have a nice day.” The four
soldiers have been taking turns,

a kind of musical chairs—
the one with the gun becomes

the one who hauls the body
becomes the one who brings the prisoner

becomes the one who questions. Then
they do it over again.

Now it’s gone on for hours.
It’s early morning. The sun

unfolds across the floor,
across the bodies on the floor

like a widow’s trailed gown.
The man remains proud.

He’s dragged to the bedroom,
shoved down near the window.

Outside, a few swallows land
in the trees. They hear him say,

“please.” They hear him say,
“it is a nice day.”

Posted 09/04/09
This poem first appeared in Mid-American Review volume 29, issue 1.
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