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DISAPPEARED IN THE USA
by Henry Howard
A midnight knock
On a Muslim family’s door,
Then gutteral shouts
From beefy Federal marshals too vicious to ignore.
Confusion and sleepiness
Give way to wakeful terror,
Images of secret police and torture cells
Flashing in the mid of the immigrant father,
Answering in placating tones
While his wife and children hide, shivering, in the closet.
Questions and commands hurled like bullets,
The New York merchant of 20 years’ standing
Given a new home behind clanging cell doors,
Christened with new names his family can’t pronounce or understand:
His new neighbors are Yemeni, Saudi, Pakistani, Afghani.
His guards can’t tell one from another,
And it amuses them greatly to try.
They give up after a few beers, and laugh.
So long as everyone’s nationality ends in an “I,”
There’s an easy label to remember them all by:
DISAPPEARED IN THE USA!
Names are given new power these days,
To help us identify friend from foe.
After all, blue-blooded handles like Foster, Adams, Smith, and Jones
Have the stamp of approval from our heartland and homeland.
They are “with” us.
Names like Mahmood, Omar, Farouzian, Mohammad.
Even Padilla. Rodriguez. Salazar—
These are names from evil empires, we are told,
Where guerrillas hunch in smoky jungle shacks
And plot the next attack on “our” way of life.
“They” are “against” us.
Those are the names of people who, our government assures us,
Must be swept up in factory raids,
Plucked from the fields as they grow our lettuce,
Arrested as they wait patiently in line, lured by the promise of job
Handcuffed as they lock up their stores for the night,
Dragged off before their screaming families,
And DISAPPEARED IN THE USA!
An Egyptian shopkeeper,
A Palestinian doctor,
An Indonesian teacher.
Pillars of their communities,
They have become shadows, housed now in communities
With strange new names:
Guantanamo. Krome. El Centro. Lompoc.
How many thousands are still living in cages,
Behind floodlights and razor-wire,
For one month, six months, twenty years,
The government will not say.
In their eyes, the detainees have ceased to be people,
Only phantoms DISAPPEARED IN THE USA!
We must not stand by
As concentration camps dot the land,
As neighbors and co-workers disappear into night and fog,
While elected officials lie and refuse to take a stand.
It’s up to us to unite and link arms,
In the factories, in the farms,
In the schools and at the airports,
By the prison gates where we must say:
Return to freedom every last innocent
DISAPPEARED IN THE USA!