when we talk about the internet and the unmediated, sped-up access to information it enables, people mention the images from abu ghraib almost without fail. those pictures generated such a visceral response that when we remember them, we remember not just the images but the way we processed them simultaneously with our minds and guts. i think they come up too as emblematic of state secrets in an age where the state has a harder and harder time keeping secrets... but because they are gruesome and primal, they can never be "just" metaphor.
in "the nail," watch the deliberate pronoun drift (drift in a cultivated way and not a casual way). the first few lines seem to pointedly elide any "you" or "me" ("what [...] mind does after horror," "how [...] not be annihilated?" "feels it in the tendons of the hand"), and then a "you" sneaks in and becomes the active and emphatic "your." the speaker backs away again in the second stanza and then takes/assigns sweeping ownership with the "us," "us," "us," "us," "us," and then "we," "we," "we" that broadens out again to encompass the "brutal human world."
by C. K. Williams
Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand...
read the rest of the poem, excerpted from: C. K. Williams' “The Nail” in Repair. Copyright © 1999