Unlawful Orders

by Gerard Donnelly Smith

June 7, 2004   


Author's note: The next installment. These abject horrors keep forcing the pen to search for understanding. Perhaps my muse is a chthonic bitch who revels in presenting the abject in a sublime language. Perhaps it is my own desire to create an aesthetic tension between the music of poetry and the horror of humanity, perhaps this is the only way I can release the anger, process the awestruck wonder at the fact that people can still behave like barbarians. Ethnic cleansing in Sudan, refugees in Chad. Rescue workers who survived Rwanda crying because it is all too familiar. The slaughter goes on and on as political hoodlums try to consolidate power. Blindly in the chain-of-command, the patriotic citizen, the religious fanatic, and the willing mercenary stack the corpses higher.

The inquisitor's robes kept him safe
when the coals popped, sending cinders flying,
as he singed the flesh to excruciatingly exert
the confession from the heretic Christian.

When asked about instituting democratic reform,
the Dictator replied, "what's wrong with dictatorship,
is anarchy better?" Outside the women danced
with pictures of their missing hubands.

His ethics kept him safe from the breakdowns,
from the guilt and shame others in his profession suffered;
he routinely did his part within the chain-of-command,
administering the lethal injection.

When asked if they prefer death to living agony,
reasonably intelligent individuals will debate
whether the medication can provide a sound
quality of life for the terminal patient.

The soldier's training kept him safe
from the sniper's bullets, the hidden bombs, and the ambush,
but not from the military intelligence that suggests
enemy-combatants have no legal rights.

When asked about religious morals and customs,
the General replied, "your logic is impeccable"
for each pose, each degradation, each immoral act
purposefully violated the victim's religious laws and customs.


Have you seen the illustrations of the righteous torturing heretics,
burning witches at the stake, squeezing confessions with heavy stones
from the bursting lungs of prophets, allegedly possessed by Satan?

Have you read the grim descriptions of the Black Hole in Calcutta, or
fell silent in abject horror after horror reading the Marquis de Sade,
sodomizing victims, stacking up his captives' heads on poles?

Have you heard the news about the tyrant
who tortured his citizens, who buried victims in mass graves? —
he's been replaced by the liberators, by the protectors of freedom
of religion, of expression, of liberty, and of life.

Have you seen the photographs? Heard the descriptions on NPR?

Sick, I am listening, driving to the campus. Sick and thinking about
moving to Canada, becoming more ill while listening about a pyramid,
about a dog collar, about military intelligence, about the chain of
command, about, about, about depravity starting from the bottom up,
thinking bullshit, thinking that tears it, tears the curtain aside, in
half, asunder, that sums it all up in a nutshell cracked clean in half,
that just about fucking says it all, doesn't it?

Didn't you read about the concentration camps, or watch the History
Channel, when the rise and fall of Hitler demonstrates how low humanity
can fall; seen the tortured, staved Jews, Pole, Gypsies and Romas
blankly staring at their saviors as news crews filming it all rolled by?

Are you watching Operation Freedom, hooked by the latest in reality
programming; like some twisted survivor show gone horribly wrong; the
contestants fashioning weapons while embedded journalists provide
point-by-point analysis?

Sick, I am writing about this, sick that my muse must listen to me
vomit, sick that I may not write about something beautiful, about
something sublime, about a mother's love for her son, about a man's love
of his wife, about, about children, that everyone was once innocent,
sheltered, precious beyond measure, that if we could just imagine we
were still children all, all children of the same divine mystery, then
maybe we wouldn't have to write about, or hear about, or see with our
own eyes such atrocities again.

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Poetry on Swans


Gerard Donnelly Smith, a poet and musician, teaches creative writing, literature and composition at Clark College in Vancouver WA. CERRO de la ESTRELLA (Logan Elm Press, 1992) was chosen for The Governor's Award for the Arts in Ohio, 1992. Excerpts from THE AMERICAN CORPSE (10 poems) were published in Apex of the M in 1995. He is the current director of the Columbia Writers Series, an Honorary Board Member of The Mountain Writers Series, and co-advisor of the Native American Student Council at Clark College. He has also organized readings for Poets Against the War.

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Published June 7, 2004
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