“Bound and Gagged”
(after Ed Moses)

They stand there, gazing
out at us balefully, from behind
their enclosure of wooden struts
and chicken wire, bound and gagged
by the ties that hold them carefully
in place, two dozen of them,
more perhaps, erect and naked,
proud, aloof under stark prison lights;
all of them strangely human, some tall,
some short, some male, with long,
hard dongs, some female, with their
pendulous breasts; some decorated
here and there with fading paint,
or spare, ritual objects; spirits
of gods awaiting their release.

Ceremonial, these carved figures
from the wisdom of the still living
ancient mind (from Papua, New Guinea,
the Ivory Coast, the Congo) have been
held captive here, in what we call
our world, standing for decades
in the museum basement, unattended,
their power unexercised, their magic
mute. And now, brought out
to stand among us in their silent rows,
they are still regal in their presence,
still commanding–in that way
the gods command, unquestioned,
unquestioning of their own authority.

And in that presence, my mind
turns to those other prisoners
of ours, today, those men
and women held in Guantanamo,
in Abu Ghraib, of ancient heritage,
and fierce, and proud in their own way,
and locked away, unheard, beyond
the reach of law or justice; we fear
that ancient, ruthless power
with which we invest those different
from ourselves, and keep them
in the basement of our lives, bound
and gagged, awaiting the timeless call
of a destiny beyond our comprehension.

For this is what we do,
in our clean world of living rooms,
and televisions, and flush toilets;
it’s what what we do to those
we do not understand, and those
we fear, and those who threaten us,
guardians of the dark gates between
sanity and madness, our dream
and the nightmare of that dark,
chaotic underworld whose power
we barely dare to sense. And so
we cage them in, we lock them
in our basement; and, on fit occasion,
we bring them out to gaze back
at their ritual, barbaric forms,
discomforted by who they are
and what we do to tame them.
They show us more about ourselves
than we would ever care to know.

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