The Look of Silence

Fair Use

What stains the mind
from Joshua Oppenheimer’s film
on the Indonesian genocide
is how cavalier the killers are
about killing — when,
recalling the massacres,
they reprise their roles
in cartoonish pantomime,
showing filmmakers
how they’d take suspected communists
down to the river
and split their bellies open with knives.

When years later one victim’s brother
confronts the killers’ families without fear,
presses them for answers,
for apology,
for restitution,
the look of silence ensues:
the look of irremediable loss,
of courage voided
and truth numb,
of thought and emotion
at last parted 
by the silent fact of death.

What is it in us
that denies life?
What is it in us
that denies love?
In Peru, where my wife’s from,
it was the communist who slaughtered people.
In China, it was the Maoist
who broke people down
in the grist of propaganda.
In America, free men march in the streets 
carrying torches and signs,
shouting how much other races don’t matter.

When entire people become fodder
for our anger, our anguish,
when human beings become abstract
in the status of enemy,
we kill, 
we kill.