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My friend's hunger strike against force-feeding at Guantanamo

“There are places on this earth where color has absconded.” One man’s protest against force-feeding at the Guantanamo detention camp.

Andrés Thomas Conteris. Credit: Taylor C. Hall. All rights reserved.

I wrote this poem after seeing a photo of my friend Andrés Thomas Conteris voluntarily submitting to nasogastric feeding in front of the White House in Washington DC on October 18th 2013.  Andrés had been on hunger strike for over two months at this point, protesting against the force-feeding of prisoners who were also on hunger strike in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Around him, supporters dressed in the orange of Guantanamo uniforms bore the names of some of those prisoners. 

While Andrés is himself a native of Wisconsin, his mother’s family is from Uruguay, where his aunt and uncle were tortured in the 1970s and 1980s by the US-backed dictatorship that was initiated by President Jorge Pacheco in 1968.

In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Andrés chose to put his body on the line in an act of nonviolent resistance against a blatant abuse of human and civil rights.  He was risking his health on behalf of people he did not know, and with whom few others were willing to take a stand - except a handful of human rights lawyers and activists. 

When I saw it online, this image shocked me.  I could not continue with my day.  My friend was in obvious pain, and he was terribly emaciated.  What moved me was the shock of truly taking in the suffering of another person, followed by the urgent desire to do something - anything - to alleviate that pain.  So I wrote this poem.

my friend went on hunger strike


he sits outside a white house

beside a syringe of white liquid

held high against a white sky

 

he is fifty pounds lighter

than the last time we met

I’m thinking of going on hunger strike, he bellowed

over the clatter of beats and glasses

 

after 61 days in the desert

his head crooked like an infant

or a very old man

a white-clad doctor

pipes white food

into his nostril

there are hands on his thinness

and eyes on his face

but his are closed

to color

 

it feels like endless agony, he says

it feels like drowning

 

orange friends

wearing unwhite names

wield signs that speak of barbed wire &

another orange man

head buried in black

kneeling on colorless dirt

against a colorless wall

 

106 stopped eating

56 fed by force

10 years without charge or trial

speech in solitary

assembly dismembered

all that remains

is what it takes to refuse

daybreak and seed and rain

 

white was the manna

God dropped from the sky

wafers and honey on the tongue

yet kept overnight it stank

grew frantic with maggots

 

there are places on this earth where

color has absconded

and sky holds its breath

there are places where food is

a syringe of white liquid

and in it

you drown

About the author

Marisa Handler is the author of the award-winning memoir Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist, and her essays, fiction, journalism and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. She earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received multiple fellowships in Creative Writing, including a Fulbright.  She teaches fiction and nonfiction at Mills College, the California Institute for Integral Studies, and Stanford.  Marisa is also a performing and recording singer-songwriter.  More at www.marisahandler.com.


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