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Wednesday, August 22, 2018


by Bill Sullivan

"Cutting Barbed Wire" by Toyo Miyatake (circa 1944/1945).

Somehow Mr. Miyatake was able to smuggle in his lenses,
build a makeshift box camera out of what scraps were available
in the Manzanar Internment Camp. Confinement could not
constrain his ingenuity, his spirit, his need to document injustice.
So we have a black and white record of this shameful action
as well as photos of a resilient, proud people to absorb and remember.

               I am looking at his image of a raised arm, a hand
clutches a wire cutter, as if it were a lifeline, its blades open,
ready, eager, one senses, to sever a strand of razor sharp barbed wire.
In the top left-hand corner, we see the guard tower looming
over the scene. Yes, a given time and place. A dark piece
of our past, but it could have been taken at one of the Nazi
concentration camps, a Siberian gulag, any one of too many
political prisons. Clashing symbols; the desire to be free
and the drive to imprison.

               I am thinking of the suspicion, fear and greed
that led to the confinement of Japanese Americans decades ago
but also, the recent images of Central American children separated
from parents, crammed into cages, lying there on concrete
or thin pads, alone, sobbing, some silently, Brown children, vermin
to some, quarantined, held as hostages to convince their parents
to return to their countries and to deter other asylum seekers
from crossing the border. All that cruelty to assure the whiteness
of America prevails.

Has a photographer pressed his shutter, captured
the indifference and abuse in this house of horrors?
Has a filmmaker documented the bewilderment
and innocence of children, the anguish of parents?
So that after the wires are severed and they are free
and united, we and our children's children can see,
know shame and anger, reap love from the ashes
of our history.

Shoes and toys left at a port of entry to the U.S. in Tornillo, Texas. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images accompanying “Toddlers fend for themselves in immigration court thanks to Trump,” an op-ed by Sen. Richard Durbin, Chicago Sun-Times, August 17, 2018. "The policy began in secret. The Trump administration denied such a policy existed. And when it finally acknowledged that migrant children were being separated from their parents at the border, chaos ensued. Only now is the full picture of what happened and why becoming clear." —The Daily podcast presents "Divided."

Bill Sullivan taught English and American studies at Keene State College, co-authored books on Twentieth century American poetry, co-produced two documentary films, and most recently published Loon Lore: In Poetry and Prose.