March 15, 2014

Rebecca Gayle Howell

“A square kilometer of hell,” the BBC called it. Feet, cut off. Lit cigarette ends. Drills. Abu Ghraib

I’ve been told it means “father of strangers," but the Google replicates anglicized Arabic

into the English fill form where a father of strangers becomes a father of strangers, where babel begins

to rend sense. Abu Ghraib — where along the walls Saddam Hussein’s wise sayings are painted.

Where art says “There is no life without the sun.” I’m writing this to you from West Texas,

a decade after our eyes turned inside out: that new Christ, electrocuted, hooded. My students here

don’t know Abu Ghraib: West Texas has its own sun; it burns hotter, closer than the other one.

I’ve stopped making pictures. It’s the difference, in my body, between a button and a release; a click:

a consequence of an action, not the memory of an action. The other day my buddy told me about a book

he’s reading, in which the writer describes crying while he watches OJ’s Bronco drive. Why are you crying,

his kid asks. And the writer says: I remember the light. The speed of the white flat top of that getaway truck

against L.A.’s eternal concrete, a moving mirror. I remember the light, too — high-school journalism

class stopped; we wheeled in a T.V. cart. I was a child. My dad had died. All I wanted was to sleep.

Abu Ghraib holds 15,000; so did my little town. We had a Walmart and, then, a Super Walmart.

A big park with a lake and once a year we’d race hot air balloons across the sky and the blue hour water.

It was after that, after OJ, that news changed. That stories changed. That days changed

into drills. I don’t know how to tell you what quiet is. I will say it allows for a choice to be made.

What does it mean, to be a father of strangers? That you don’t recognize what you have born?

Or that you do, then turn to number the stars, knowing so shall your seed be, nameless and bastard.


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