On Seeing the North Korean Prison Camps on Google Earth

Surely there is a mine for gold,
And a wood where trees fall like cud­gels.
They probe with picks of bone, they haul up bur­dens in sacks,
They bring frag­ments of the fore­gone to light.
Away from human habi­ta­tion
They sway sus­pended,  hands behind their backs.

The falcon’s eye has seen and passed over.
The rulers of this world have heard rumours.
Death takes things as they come.

They claw the earth in search of crusts,
The earth with fire under­neath it
That churns, and churns, and never breaks its bounds.

© Laura Del Col Brown 2015


Today’s poem is On See­ing the North Korean Prison Camps on Google Earth by Laura Del Col Brown. A top­i­cal piece, given all the news on North Korea, this is an obser­va­tional poem which is sti­flingly dark and sym­pa­thetic to the plight of those interred in the prison camps. A night­mar­ish, hell­ish piece, it draws a par­al­lel between such lit­er­ary imagery as Tolkien’s Isen­gard, George Orwell’s 1984  and the real-​​life suf­fer­ing of all those forced under the boot of oppres­sion, to be churned by the machine and ulti­mately to “sway sus­pended,  hands behind their backs.”  In the end-​​game, the piece exposes the utter futil­ity and inhu­man­ity of the entire process, observed, how­ever dis­tantly and safely, by the observer, and reminds us all of our own fleet­ing mor­tal­ity. A stark, bru­tal piece of poetry.

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