Black Site

By Peter Maeck

Featured Art: The Yellow Books By Vincent Van Gogh

The guards awakened us, we’d barely
gone to sleep, they strip-searched first
the women then the rest of us (trim off the
limp, discolored outer leaves of late-picked
artichokes) but Frank refused to shed his
boxer shorts, not smart, he paid the price
for his recalcitrance.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TONIGHT?
WHO HAVE YOU SEEN?
WHERE DID YOU MEET?
WHAT DID YOU TALK ABOUT?

We shrugged, stayed mute.
(The artichoke grows wild in
shallow water, in canoes is
how you harvest it, our good friend
Nancy Sheffer says to trim the stalk,
cut off the limp, discolored outer
such and such.)

IF YOU NAME NAMES
THEN YOU ARE FREE TO GO.

By our silence we said no,
we won’t give up our friends,
that’s not what good friends do.
Then as expected we were hit with
pipes, my kneecap shattered with
one blow. Just think, I thought,
if I just shouted:

Nancy Sheffer!
She’s the one we met!
Here is what we talked about!
then all the blows would stop
and we would be released.
(The way to teach your cockatiel to
play with toys is play with them
yourself thereby to show your
feathered friend the way to
merry-make.) But we were
beaten every hour all that night
and all the rest of that whole week.
(A cockatiel needs time to feel at home
in human space just as, if we were birds,
we likewise would.) Now badly beaten Frank
is in a catatonic state. We do not dare to make
the sound that we would make
if we were fools enough
to weep.

(You want a good read pick up
Nancy Sheffer’s book about the
artichokes of New York State.) Frank
sprawls there on his back and looks
just like a cat run over by a Mack
truck. (Once a bird’s chicks fledge
they’re all pushed out and some
fly free and some are mauled by
catatonic cats in heat all howling
all the night. Trim off the outer part,
it’s blackened now and much too limp
to eat with pipes our best friend Nancy
Sheffer noted in her pioneering book.)

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
WHO HAVE YOU SEEN?
WHAT WAS THE SUBJECT OF YOUR CHAT?

We play dumb: What chat?
And then the pipes, the pipes,
she wrote.


Peter Maeck’s new poetry collection, Aperture, will be published in 2022. His stage plays and dance scenarios, including for Pilobolus and MOMIX Dance Theatres, have been produced worldwide. Maeck, who was a U.S. State Department Cultural Specialist in Tanzania and Morocco, holds a BA in English from Dartmouth College and an MFA in Playwriting from Brandeis University.

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