The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Once Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison,
Once The Tuol Svay Prey High School, Under Lon Nol
Somewhere there’s a general store that sells barbed wire,
branding irons, lye, knives, vises, pincers, whips, chains,
sticks with sharpened points,
100 watt light bulbs guaranteed to blaze 24 hours a day,
rulers to measure how much to crimp a holding cell
so only dwarfs can stand up.
Somewhere there are schools where one can go to learn
how to efface names, assign numbers, keep lists and ledgers,
take pictures---there are rooms full of unsmiling faces
displayed in the misused classrooms,
walls that echo a meticulous Nazi accounting system---
where their acolytes aptly apply a monotony of methods.
Somewhere there’s a counterforce called critical mass,
when the earth begins to heave, breaks open like a heart
and spews forth the ashes of the gassed and burned,
the bones at Baba Yar; gusts of talebearing winds yank shrouds
off Kurds caught frozen in their aborted flights, off skulls stacked
like pyramids, the killing fields.
There is heard then a searing universal wail,
a global introspection bundled into a bread-and-rescue mission.
That’s when cargo ships leave ports loaded with blankets, shoes,
used T-shirts, prostheses, seeds, drugs, bandages, eyeglasses,
items gathered from a general store, on its shelves
what it takes, to make a life. All has been revealed.
There is shame and remorse and promises and resolutions.
There are newspaper articles extolling human generosity, pictures
of the restored and the saved and the grateful.
There’s a reorganization of goods on the depleted shelves,
and an inventory. Staples are ordered, to replace
what has been used up. The store never closes.