“Short Sleeves” (Thinking of Sierra Leone)


“Short Sleeves” (Thinking of Sierra Leone)

I cannot come close to really imagining
the bite of knife, the cold metal
below the shoulder blades.

My image of the invading soldiers as they unsheathe
their intent
is stock, stereotyped–when I try to place myself as captive,
the man now without arms, I feel
like the lowest thief of despair, a vampire
sucking at the heart of darkness, truth, suffering,
to fill my own precious

The metal hooks that serve
as his hands
bring wounds to my head, soundbites like
“the congealment of survival.”

My safe/sound cerebellum sees him dreaming
of lost arms, fingers, that clutch at the throats
of metal grins, until, as a dark flock flutters overhead,
all taking wing at once, they stretch
down to his loins, caressing,
tender.  I imagine him waking to nub sides, weeping
at the loss of touch, the touch of him, and
I want to weep–that
part is genuine enough–I want
to weep without, I imagine,
ceasing, touched
in every part of soul I can muster,
as best I can.

I wrote the above post for dVerse Poets Pub Poetics Challenge on vampires, hosted by a blogger named Blue Flute.  I have read my share of straight and fun vampire books–in fact if you search vampire on this blog–you will find vampire elephants, vampire camels, and many posts on Robert Pattinson–but today  the theme brought to mind the current war crimes trial at the Hague against Charles Taylor, Liberian dictator–the blood lust of the soldiers and the sorrow I feel over these things without, I know, a true understanding of them.   When Taylor’s  troops invaded Sierra Leone, they sometimes taunted victims with the “choice” of “long sleeves,” the cutting off of their hands, or “short sleeves,” the cutting off of arms above the elbows.  People were given “smiles” by the cutting off of their lips.  Taylor has been found guilty.

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19 Comments on ““Short Sleeves” (Thinking of Sierra Leone)”

  1. Blue Flute Says:

    How terrible! (Charles Taylor, not the poem) Your poem really captures the brutality well and I like your figurative use of “vampire” to explore real world cruelty.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. It’s just incredibly terrible. I’ve heard they are quite upset in Liberia–not so much for Taylor’s sake, but because he was prosecuted for crimes in Liberia, not there. K.

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    Gruesome, and as you say, that is a kind of horror you don’t absorb from tens of thousands of miles away, yet one drinks it because it is part of our nature to do so–to collect our own barbarity and horrify ourselves with its simulacrum. Fine and really aware writing–that is, making the reader aware of very difficult to imagine feelings and sensations.

  3. brian miller Says:

    jesus…how brutal we are..and monsters are not just in our stories but in our world…far worse than ones we make movies of…the sleeves treatment is just killing me…ugh…and it has gripped you for 2 days…oy…nicely done, i guess…ugh…smiles.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes, I know – it is a terrible story and it is a bit hard to let go of. I’d read about it before but reading about the trials–what the soldiers did was really quite incredible — dressing up in wigs,etc. Just awful. Hard to believe that so much suffering is inflicted in the world–we know it’s true–but still hard to digest. k.

  4. Amazing work, one of my favorites of yours, and an excellent, thought-provoking write to the prompt.

  5. This poem – and the accompanying historical note – underlined how horrific the real world can be, without having to evoke any fantastical mythos like that of the vampire. Heart-stopping.

  6. hobgoblin2011 Says:

    Very good piece. Definitely a unique twist to the prompt. I love how you incorporated heart of darkness in here, as I’ve heard that river compared as being somewhat vampiric in it’s own right, great allusion and big time kudos for unsheathe, sheaths and scabbards are two of my favorite terms, as they provide for so many good metaphoric uses. and vacuity, very nice touch. Thanks

  7. claudia Says:

    i’ve heard about this as well…and it makes me weep and shocked about what kind of monsters human beings can become…it’s terrifying

  8. David King Says:

    You speak for me – and I’m sure for many – though I could never have put it so well.

  9. Terrible and gruesome….they are the real monsters and vampires ~

  10. You captured the brutality of your message more than well. Excellent take on the topic. Well written as well.

  11. Chazinator Says:

    This is excellent. I was looking for a suitable political theme to use for the myth, but this fits the bill so exactly, so powerfully. Your imaging the victims of such a monster as Taylor is very effective, trying to grasp the immense horror that was perpetrated by this monster of a man. It is never ever easy to imagine the suffering of others, but your poem brings us into the force of the atrocity that turns humans into things, as Simone Weil says. Excellent, as always, work.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Oh thanks so much, Chaz. I have been reading and thinking about the trial a lot lately–hard to get the details out of one’s mind–but also conscious of the preciousness of trying to write from another’s point of view, or even such a subject–it is so heavy and though, of course, no one’s life is free of difficult experiences, these are very different. So when the subject came up, I thought of that. As noted, jokingly, I was for a while a year or so back in an extremely escapist frame of mind and really enjoyed the vampire theme – in escapist novels and my own very silly drawings of vampire animals. But not quite in that mood right now. Thanks for your, as always, thoughtful thoughtful comment. K.

  12. Myrna Says:

    Reading this excellently written piece, made me consider that vampires are actually less violent, horrific than some real people. How awful. But your writing is wonderful.

  13. Patti Says:

    This is a really interesting approach to the prompt. It works very well. You capture the horror of this gruesome time.

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