The Voice Within

A Guantánamo detainee’s seasonal lament

| May - June 2008


For all the ink spilled over the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay—the human rights abuses, the questionable legality, and the facility’s future—the voices of its hundreds of detainees rarely join the fray. The book Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak (University of Iowa Press, 2007) takes a step toward filling this gaping void. “Many men at Guantánamo turned to writing poetry as a way to maintain their sanity, to memorialize their suffering, and to preserve their humanity through acts of creation,” writes editor Marc Falkoff, a law professor at Northern Illinois University and an attorney for several Guantánamo prisoners.

Assembling the volume proved to be a mammoth legal challenge. The U.S. government contends that poetry presents a “special risk” to national security, since the form lends itself to coded communication. A squad of lawyers had to submit the poems to the Pentagon, line by line, to be approved for publication. The 22 poems in the book, written by 17 Muslim men, represent only a fraction of the works produced. The poem below is the work of Pakistani writer Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost, who composed it on a piece of a disposable cup from a meal tray.

Cup Poem I

What kind of spring is this,
Where there are no flowers and
The air is filled with a miserable smell?



Reprinted with permission from Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by Marc Falkoff and published in 2007 by the University of Iowa Press; www.uiowapress.org.