Two Poems by David Salner

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Gulag Couple

As he departs, he searches the incoming crowd
     for her face, which would be dull
          from the train ride, dusted and grayed,

but her face just the same. Any moment,
     she could walk by, a tiny woman
          in this sea of hats, hats made from sheepskin,

patched with old cloth. She would be searching
     for him as she’s marched into camp.
          The two of them know about searching,

for arrival means searching, in camps like this,
     where the trains deposit their cargo
          of still-living flesh and pick up

the same. She finds the new bunk, finds someone
     who knew him, who tells her that, yes,
          he was here, but at dawn he was marched …
In her mind’s eye, she sees him, hears how the wind
     cries over the platform, feels how he jams
          his fists in his pockets, the old wool,

stone-hard on his knuckles. She stares after him
     as the guards march him and the others
          into a car, where a fragrance tells him

that here, in Verkhne-Uralsk,
          I took your place on the train.



Without Saint George

The tyrant Dacian stretched St. George
on the rack then pressed
him in a box through which
nails were driven, salted his wounds
with hair cloth, dunked him in boiling water.
That was not the end of his torture.

We have no saints today, no one like that,
but there is one ordinary
prisoner named Gerardo, who was
held in isolation seventeen months, seventeen
months in his underwear, without a blanket,
without a window in his cell. For seventeen
months with the lights kept on
he couldn’t sleep or tell day from night.

Time flies, at least for me, and now
in the thirteenth year of the third
millennium, Gerardo has served
fifteen years, with two life terms to go,
during which he will not face torture
in the sense St. George did, not face torture
according to the definition of his
captors. He never sees his wife because the US
State Department has denied her application
for a visa, too many times to count.

The days of St. George and his fabled courage
have long since past. Our lives go on
without him. But Gerardo is here,
an ordinary prisoner with something
extraordinary he won’t give up. I would not compare
the two men, but you can write to Gerardo
at Victorville Prison in California —
and he will write back.

(for Gerardo Hernandez #58739-004, USP Victorville, PO Box 3900 Adelanto CA 92301)

David Salner’s second book, Working Here, was published by Minnesota State University’s Rooster Hill Press in 2010. His writing appears in recent issues of Poetry Daily, Threepenny Review, Tampa Review Online, Poetry Northwest, and many other journals.

Salner photo.JPG

After 25 years working manual labor jobs, he looks at the U.S. criminal system from an angle unfamiliar to many writers. Victims of police brutality and unjust incarceration are present in his poetic vision. For more about Gerardo's case ("Without St. George"), visit
The Cuban Five