Poetry as a Lifeline: D. Nurkse


The 2012 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival runs for the 2nd-4th November, and for the next week, Ink Sweat & Tears will be featuring poems on the theme ‘Poetry as a Lifeline’ which is the subject of the IS&T-supported Discussions and Short Takes this year.  Today’s poem is from D. Nurkse who is appearing at the Festival.  Find out more about the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival here



The Codes

Command v. Bradley Manning


Because I stole the codes, they make me sleep naked.

At nineteen hours, two agents collect my shirt,

pants, shorts–-I had never had laces or a belt.

Their eyes burn behind identical ski masks

but they never speak, touch, or look at me.

Perhaps if they did, they couldn’t make love

to their girlfriends in the city. Or they have orders.

They wear white latex gloves and their boots

are wrapped in cellophane. One has tongs. I get a sheet,

but at dawn I give it up and stand nude at attention

outside the triple-ply steel door. One guards me

with a drawn Glock, the other searches my cell,

though there is nothing, a board, a slop-hole.

At certain angles he puts his hand over the camera

so he won’t be recognized a thousand years from now.

I guess this, I can’t focus, my eyes are forward.

You will see a whorled thumb print, a smudge of hair,

then the tape will show my dangling sex, my pale belly,

my thick yellow toenail, because I stole the codes.



Dennis Nurkse teaches at the Sarah Lawrence College and is on the board of Amnesty International USA.  He was shortlisted  for the 2011  Forward Prize for Voices Over Water.  A Night in Brooklyn (2012) is his ninth collection.



Notes: “This poem re-imagines the actual pretrial detention conditions of Bradley Manning, the young soldier who publicized confidential files in the Wiki leaks case. The poem would hope to bridge–to an infinitesimal degree, at best–the isolation of the prisoner and the outside world.”  The Codes is  forthcoming in The Manhattan Review.


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