I read this curious Victorian novel in
the suspended bliss of a mid-July night.
Moths storm the screen longing
to immolate themselves, plaster
their frail dust against the single bulb.
But even they do not distract my attention
from his pure fiance, May Welland,
when, in 1870, in Old New York Newland Archer kisses her for only the second time in their prescribed courtship
and presses down too hard in his ardor.
Here's Edith Wharton's script: the blood rose to her face, and she drew back
as if he had startled her.
What could her heroine say to Mukhtaran Bibi, a Pakistani woman, who is raped four times as retribution for something her younger brother was said to have done, while the high-status tribesmen danced for joy? Gang rape. The definition, several attackers in rapid succession, in no way conveys the horror, the male gutturals, the raw juice, the fervor, as the treasured porcelain of the victim's vagina is shattered. The shame. What could this virgin say --for whom apparently there were no prostitutes, no hungry immigrants, no tenements, pickpockets, pushcarts, used-up horses beaten to the pavement in Old New York. Turn your head, May Welland! Look away or burn. First Thing in the Morning First thing in the morning the hooded man comes back to me frozen in terror atop his box. I take him with me over my cereal and juice. Why must thou obsess? the godhead thunders. Am I not a god of far-off? Permit this poor benighted bastard to signify the moment when your country metamorphosed from a nation that did not torture into one that did. Therefore let us have hooded-man dolls with wires sticking out of their sleeves. Let them be fetishes for all-American kids To carry in their backpacks. You may use all available options in a time of peril. .We shackled them upright to keep them awake. We shocked them with wires from an electric transformer. The detainee "danced" as he was shocked. Let us dance. Let us watch The Simpsons, the Red Sox, Fox News channel, let us sit back, pop a beer or two and forget. Waterboarding You're thinking summer, theme parks, a giant plastic slide turquoise and pink, water streaming along its sinuous course and clots of screaming children pouring down cooled as the ice in your evening gin and tonic. Wrong. Waterboarding is when they tie you to a bench face down head extending unsupported, and then they tip you little by little into filthy ruinous liquid, eyes ears mouth until you vomit drowning and after two or three reps you'll talk, you'll say anything, denounce anyone, your highschool teacher, the imam, your five brothers. The method's been approved, gone through the way the slides are, before they're allowed to operate. Orders are orders. We do what we have to do. Maxine Kumin is the author of Jack And Other New Poems; a memoir, Inside The Halo And Beyond, and Always Beginning, essays on a life in poetry. In 2005 she received the Harvard Arts Medal.