Strip Poker, Extreme Rendition
Why would they think that someone had to teach us?
That year, we played in basements, musty forts
we built of rotting wood and weathered branch.
Cards riffling teased a boner in our pants.
Our flushes, straights, full houses, double
pairs slapped down on dirt or plank
till finally one stood naked there. Loser,
winners—hot with guilt and lust. Some trilling
mix we could not understand
hummed down our nerves like anarchy.
We knew the switch's cut and leather's burn.
To grow was an experience in pain.
Strip poker there at twelve gave us our chance
to feel the rush of power as we snapped
the collar round the loser's neck to lead
him like a dog through jeers and swats.
The boyish games, the next year, were forgot,
but high school honed those skills in shame.
The football team. The secret gang.
The point was to make certain that he cried.
Tabasco. Strops. Three golf balls and a pine cone.
The new boy's abject hurt was our reward.
So when they told us those we held were not
yet softened up enough, we were prepared.
As they supposed—such games are not some
redneck aberration, but flourish still
from sea to shining sea. And here,
no chance the tables would be turned.
And so we played. Those naked bodies ours to
use, humiliate, remembering the lessons
we had learned when we were powerless.
Dogchains, flashlights, "Make him..."
Those fine and simple means that drive a man
to shame so great his last defenses crack.
We knew they knew—the colonels and the generals.
They knew if they unleashed us what we'd do.
They, after all, had once been mere boys, too.
In the past, we rendered horses into glue.
Today, we render men.
We send them places
where they are unglued, dissected,
drowned, and flayed alive.
Rendered silent? Rendered helpless? Rendered hopeless?
Rendered a rendition of a someone people knew?
We claim to think the body is divine,
a temple sanctified, inviolate.
These days, it seems, we render unto Caesar
those things we'd better render unto God.