by Al Maginnes
Maybe the blindfold is not meant
as kindness for the condemned
like the choice of a final meal
or the last cigarette, a pleasure
meant to block awareness
of what’s coming. Instead it keeps
the living from seeing how
the eyes throttle with light
or glaze at the moment of impact
before the body empties into death.
In this age of performance, even an autopsy,
final audition of the body’s efficiency,
is theater. A TV doctor explains
how the flanges of the famous chest
are opened like curtains, the routines
of the reliable duo, systole and diastole,
the shuttle cocking of artery and vein,
the blood’s drifting clouds of toxins
all are measured and named,
no chance for curtain call
or final bow. In the film
I found on the internet and watched
because I started and could not stop,
the killers, not the condemned, wore masks.
He knelt before them as they read
their proclamations in a language
he was captive long enough to know
in fragments. His face a blank
of pure misery, glossed with sweat,
his hair twisted and on end,
some composure kept him still.
Perhaps he’d seen enough movies,
American enough to believe
in last-second rescues, the hero
who kicks in the door, guns blazing.
Maybe he believed this moment
a routine humiliation between
tea and afternoon prayers,
a ritual meant to be so frightening
that when water was thrown on him
or he was kicked, their laughter
let him breathe once more.
But the reading ended and one
of the masked men produced a long knife.
There was nothing swift nor spectacular
about what followed. Bodies wrestled
across the floor. Deep inside the scrum
started noise too high-pitched to be a scream,
noise I’d never heard a human make.
When the head was displayed,
it was no longer human, but something
molded from plastic and left too long
in the back seat of a car on a hot day.
If you watch this once, you will not
watch it again. In this world,
beauty and terror coax the same tears,
the voice of fear has no words,
the victim’s face, a trophy.
But morning still happens.
I get up, make coffee, walk the dog, things
I can do with my eyes closed.
Not until I read the paper or listen
to the news does the world take shape.
Some refuse the blindfold,
but most are grateful for a darkness
granted by a cloth so ordinary
it might have dried last night’s dishes,
then wiped the empty table free
of crumbs and ashes.
Al Maginnes is the author of four full length collections of poetry and four chapbooks, most recently Ghost Alphabet, which won the 2007 White Pine poetry prize and two chapbooks, Between States (Main Street Rag Press) and Greatest Hits 1987-2010 (Pudding House), which were published in 2010. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Southern Review, Georgia Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Cloudbank, Salamander, and Solo. He lives in Raleigh, NC with his wife and daughter and teaches at Wake Technical Community College. The above poem was originally published in Southern Poetry Review and is reprinted here with permission of the author.