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Men Without Amnesty

They are masters of the smoked-glass stare.
They may be untutored men,
But they are well-versed in the scholarship of pain.
They are descended by lineage of motive
From the Inquisition -
Heresy is necessary to consolidate dogma.
If it will not arise spontaneously,
Then it must be cultivated,
Or rooted out of hiding -
Rumors, bribes, stool-pidgeons and microphones
May prove the most self-righteous deviant.
If all else fails,
Then random truncheons in the street
Will provide the necessary quota.

The law is their sanction:
When that fails, there is still tradition.
Orthodox terror
Is a classical function of the Church and the Party.

They seem remote from other men.
Often they are known only
As blind shadows in the corona of searchlights,
As relentless voices in the hours of delirium,
Or as boots enforcing the rhythms of progress
In the corridors of execution.
Day after day they record, with professional composure,
The autobiography of the scream.

But they, too, are human,
And conscience gives no amnesty.
One weakens, and his treason
Ends in a white arc of agony -
He was too clumsy to escape detection.
Continues at his work,
A white-coated father-figure of calm.
But wakes at night in a sweated bed,
Listening to the silent screams
Shaking his room in the null hours of night.

Copyright © 1977, 2003 Hugh Cook

Picture of front cover of ARC OF LIGHT poetry collection by Hugh Cook.

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