ELIOT KHALIL WILSON of Norfolk, Virginia
Winner of the ROBERT H. WINNER MEMORIAL AWARD
The Tailor of Al Hamdaniyah
Because he wore a suit and seemed
of high-value and would name no terrorists,
knowing none, they stripped and hooded the old man,
the village tailor, and hung him by his wrists
from a mulberry tree that grew by the river
The old man knew only thank you and please
in English which he said through the night
to the sound of the Tigris and the sound of the wind.
He hung from the tree, strange fruit, five days.
Piñata man or Muslim ham, the Americans called him
and burned his feet with their lighters
when he seemed to sleep
Five days it took for his brother to get word
and travel to Mosul and bring his release
but by then the hands of the tailor had ripened.
His hands had changed, like the fruit of the tree,
from white to red to withered black and past saving.
They carried him to the clinic and cut them off.
Nine hundred dollars they issued him,
to which he said neither thank you nor please.
Henri Cole on Eliot Khalil Wilson
There is something close to the vivid cruelty of an Hieronymus Bosch painting in some of the poems of Eliot Khalil Wilson, where we encounter a pilot dropping incendiary bombs, a gunner shooting children and dogs (but not women or birds—"Bad luck.... Even when they are dead, they remember."), a village tailor stripped and hooded, hung from a tree like a "Piñata Man," and a man thrown from a helicopter. Yet even while depicting Bosch-like experiences from the "Descent of Man into Hell," Khalil Wilson, in his unforgettable poems, deploys a voice that has the sympathetic beauty of candlelight and of singing in darkness.