Lessons in Democracy

poem by adam cornford

Listen, you poor unemployed managers of State Utopia
there in grey Prague, Sofia and drizzling Warsaw, ex-comrades
with your sad jowls, wondering if you can keep the Mercedes--
here's what we learned in Central America.
To stay on top indefinitely it's not enough
to split the language into Above and Below
so that dissenters' words dissolve like salt under their tongues
and make their mouths wither.

Not enough
to tap their phones, inject them with migraine
or vertigo in locked wards, not enough even
to pound their faces pulpy and toothless
in Security cellars, abandon them
shaky with malnutrition in some remote village.
You never understood that fear
has to reach all the way down
through the body. The heart must pucker shut
like a sea anemone poked with a stick, the fingers
must cling to the hand, the eyes to the face, the lips
to the teeth, imagining the surgical tray with its silvery verbs
laid out in rows, the grammar of the Recording Angel.
The fear must travel like pale threadworms in milk
from mother's nipple to child's mouth.

Because somewhere
your bodies still believed in the body, in keeping
the promises you made it: promises
with the warm savor of bread an hour from the oven,
the bright primaries of a child's toy.
Your zodiac still held a vague sunrise silhouette,
woman or man in Vitruvian reach
toward the four corners of Heaven.

That's why
in the end it cracked from one side to the other.
Peace, Justice, Progress, the Power of the Workers--
these words that were your only justification
soaked through your skins like red dye and poisoned you all.
That's why finally even your professionals
weren't able to keep it up,
whether cool surgeon's gaze or sniggering erection
when they put out cigarettes in a prisoner's wrinkled openings,
when she bounced and wailed under the electrodes.
You couldn't even trust your soldiers to open fire. In the end
you were just petty bullies, knocking intellectuals' glasses off,
making them take jobs cleaning toilets.
That's why now
you hunch away crabwise from your teak desks
like bad-tempered bookkeepers caught with their hands in the till,
whining, blustering, promising to change. You feared the market
even as you loved what it brought you.

We
don't have these difficulties. We need only say: Subversion.
We need only show Them a swatted helicopter, say, some weapons
we captured inexpensively from a dealer in Lima
and the money comes down, pure as Their Columbia River.
This cold clean flow drives the turbines
They have given us, the friendly computers with webs
of suspect names woven across the screen, the are lights
around the strategic village compound, the projectors
in the theaters that show Their movies about wild dogs
eating women, huge warriors armored in
muscle pissing petroleum fire into the jungle.
With this voltage
we wire up a captured rebel, scrawny marionette
hanging from his own ganglia, to lip-synch some atrocity script.
Right away new assault rifles appear in our hands, blessing us
with fragrant oil.

You see, we still get the joke
when prisoners' mouths make those absurd rubbery shapes,
when they apologize for crimes they've never committed and beg
to kiss our fingers. We understand, as you never did, that ignorance
is a velvety dark bloom that must be watered and pruned.
We understand that an army is a business, like planting coffee
or bringing the Bible to the brown mongrels in the barrios.
We understand above all that the axis the planet spirals
around like a bluebottle fly, buzzing and licking,
is a great column of blood spouting between eternities.

Too bad
your father Stalin couldn't pass himself on to his pasty sons.
You see, our Father is the Father of television. He shows us
pearl-colored sedans cornering silkily under a swollen moon,
gringas with tight hips and slow cataracts of hair,
and we reach into the screen's cool water
and take them.

That is His promise. That's what it means
to be even the smallest organ of this immense body--
to be rooted, humbly, in the continent of democracy.

--Adam Cornford