Neutralize!

Mitsuye Yamada

[This poem is read by the author  MP3 of this poem]

poetry . . .
has been my spiritual guide
throughout my incarceration
in the darkest of times
I turn to Neruda and Hikmet
and Rukeyser and Ritsas
and Chrytos
and Whitman. . .

– U.S. Political Prisoner

They mean to kill
the sentient being in me
Neutralize!

White white
no poetry in
white floors walls ceiling white
white chairs tables sink white
only when I close my eyes do I see
beyond the white windowless walls
remembering springtime of
lacy trees lightly green against baby blue.

There is silence silence more silence
to drown out the incessant silence
I fill my inner ear with robinsongs
melodious and soothing
but how to quell deafening
nonhuman screeches and scrapes
sounds bouncing against the white walls?

Dull smells of dead air in the cell
but through the olfactory nerves
in my mind
I can tickle with the zest of lemon
and the sweetness of wildflowers.

Willfully bland diet aimed
to erase use of my tongue
Add a pinch of salt with the taste
of sweat or even of blood
anywhere on my body
Remembering the taste of cheese.

One human touch allowed
my own arms enfold me
my fingers move over my sagging breasts
my nipples and soft parts of my body
respond.

They mean to neutralize me but
poetry keeps me alive.

1996