poem27 Jun 2021 06:05 pm
Bath for Prisoners in Portoferraio, 1890, Telemaco Signorini

Gerri Leen

The spaceship is cold, even through shoes
Not nice ones, but nicer than we're used to
Mist drifts down the corridor
Adding a damp chill as the aliens
Suggest we hurry
We're already jogging—their legs are so long
They have no weapons
They don't need them
Shows of strength have already been given
Earth knows who's boss here
Even if the aliens only destroyed abandoned things
I take comfort in that fact: they didn't hurt anyone
A door opens to a room thankfully
Lacking medical beds or anything
Reeking of torture or death
But then perhaps they have means 
Beyond the obvious
They asked for twelve of us: is that number significant to them?
One of them approaches, touching each of us in turn
A firm grasp, but not painful, its large hand
Easily spanning the width of our faces
And I feel my fear fall away
I stop it before it can move on
"Are you going to hurt us?"—hurt can mean so many things
Should I have been more specific?
But it shrugs me off and finishes the line
Then it turns to all of us 
"Did you volunteer to be tributes?"
As one, we say "No"
Other aliens are crowding in, expressions impossible to read
"How were you chosen?" the one who touched us asks
The others hazard guesses before we can answer
A lottery? A contest of skill? Wrong place, wrong time?
Or the alien version of that
"It was better than death row"
It sits out there, my statement
And the guy next to me looks down
Does he wish I hadn't said it? Does it make any difference?
"None of us pled guilty"
I know this; I asked my lawyer about it
Right before I was taken away
We're the kind of prisoners that make
The system look bad when convictions get overturned
But I can see the distinction is lost on our captors
"We didn't do it," I want to say
But I can't be sure of everyone
Guilty people protest innocence all the time
Just like innocent ones make plea deals
The system runs on pragmatism, not hope
The aliens leave, all but the one who asked the questions
"You're free to go," it says with
No sense of irony apparent
And a door opens in the side of the ship
The others flee but I don't move
"You wish to know why, tribute?" 
Its voice is infinitely gentle, soothing even
"We learn everything we need to know
By how or if tributes are chosen"
It shoos me away and I wonder if the aliens will simply
Leave or if they'll destroy us all
"Not everyone's bad" I say as I slip out the door
It's a whisper, a hope, a prayer, but is it the truth?
And if it is, will it matter?

2 Responses to “Tributes”

  1. on 06 Aug 2021 at 9:47 am SFPA July 2021 Round-Up – SPECPO

    […] poem, “Tributes,” Polu Texni, 27 June 2021 Post, http://www.polutexni.com/?p=10796 […]

  2. […] “Tributes” â€¢ Gerri Leen • Polu Texni, 27 June […]

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