This poem by Emily Warn (a founder of PoetryFoundation.org) uses mathematical terminology to introduce us to the immeasurable horror of death by slow torture. May our nation never again engage in such atrocities!
The Vanishing Point by Emily Warn
You slow down to watch cumulus clouds stream across the
sky. You choose a more circuitous route home and pass a
tree with white bags tied around random apples. The apples
remind you of clouds, how each hangs in the sky, singular
yet part of a flock. Each item in the flock is a coordinate of
earth and sky, enumerating space. The flocks of apples and
clouds are actual infinities, an endless collection of discrete
items that one can conceivably count to the end. This is
different from potential infinity, which is the entirety of
infinity, an immeasurable continuum that is greater than the
sum of its parts. After your first glimpse, you are lonely for
more contraction of space around the light of your mind
contemplating what cannot be conceived. What cannot be
conceived this morning? The Army has found the larynx of
an Iraqi man that American soldiers slowly strangled to
death. His ribs, additional evidence for the trial, are still
missing. They are in a refrigerator in Washington, D.C.
These are discrete items; whereas how the passage of time
felt as the soldiers strangled him is a continuum of infinite
pain. And his words and songs and prayers and curses he
will never speak are an empty set.
Warn's poem is found in her collection Shadow Architect (Copper Canyon Press, 2008); it also is available online along with several other Warn poems here at PoetryFoundation.org. This link leads to more information about the tragic strangulation cited in the poem.