A Poem By Tomás Q. Morín

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

Extraordinary Rendition

for Philip Levine

When the CIA said, An extraordinary rendition
 has been performed
, I knew Lester Young
 blowing his saxophone in that way he did
 when Billie Holiday was a few feet away
 smoking, singing “I Can’t Get Started,”
 was not what they had in mind. No, the agent
 at the podium talking to reporters
 who spends most of his days staring
 at computer screens riddled with numbers
 and names and maps of places he’s never been
 probably thought of a man in a hood
 far from home swimming
 in a room flooded with questions.

If the agent had children
 to pick up from school after work
 maybe he thought, in spite of his training,
 of the hooded man’s daughter waking
 to find her father gone, her mother
 in pieces. What might never cross his mind
 is how sometimes that same girl
 or any one of a hundred others
 might be imagining him
 an ocean away, standing in a pressroom
 in a charcoal suit, one size too big,
 stammering to explain the state
 of their nameless fathers one day, the wail
 a drone makes the next. In her mind
 and language “extraordinary rendition”
 still means her mother humming
 “Somebody Loves Me” with more heart
 than anyone she’s ever heard
 before or since. If you think the agent
 and daughter will meet at the end of this poem
 for the first time, then you’re wrong
 because they met many years ago
 when he closed his eyes
 and the trumpet she presses against
 her lips when she dreams entered his sleep
 like a bird made of metal. Hungry
 and not sure of what it saw, it plunged
 toward the cut open chest
 of our agent (it is always this way
 in his dreams) as if diving into a lake
 and then soared to a great height
 from where it dropped his unbreakable heart
 that whistled as it zipped past our windows
 just before it hit the sidewalk.
 Because this scene will repeat itself
 for years, a therapist will one day say guilt,
 forgiveness,
and pain to our agent
 to unsuccessfully explain how death,
 when it comes from the sky, makes a music
 so hypnotic you will never forget it,
 a truth that has always been obvious
 to the daughters of Honduras
 and Ukraine, Palestine and St. Louis.

Tomás Q. Morín is the author of A Larger Country and the translator of Pablo Neruda’s The Heights of Macchu Picchu.

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.