Firstly, the form. I wanted to use the restriction of 50 words as tightly as possible, giving them flow and pace. So I hijacked the Japanese senryu, whose three-line form of three-five-three syllables gave the poem a consistent rhythm, without allowing the cadence to overshadow the words themselves.
On considering the content of my 50 words, I was particularly struck by two central themes of Uzbek writer Mamadali Makhmudov's story:
Because the circumstances of his current imprisonment are so devastatingly ironic. Having lived under the Soviet regime and craved freedom from it for many years; having bravely written a novel during this period that struck a symbolic blow to that regime and that he was subsequently derided for; having outridden that storm to be commended for his book when Uzbekistan's independence finally arrived... Makhmudov then found he was persecuted again, imprisoned and tortured by his own countrymen, under the new regime whose existence he had dreamt of for so long.
His world was turned upside down, shattered by the realisation of his dream.
Makhmudov's testimony during his trial and his subsequent letters from prison outline horrific practices of torture said to be rife within the prisons of Uzbekistan; a culture of often sadistic violence that is described as "endemic" and condemed by human rights groups. An extract from Makhmudov's writings gives just a taste of the atrocities he claims to have experienced.
Mamadali Makhmudov is not a well man. In prison, he has experienced three heart attacks and a whole host of debilitating illnesses, not to mention the bruising stemming from ongoing abuse. The mention of rape in my poem is not merely gratuitous: our writer claims that he has witnessed first-hand the rape of prisoners, although there is no indication that this horror happened to him.
The broken mirror
This is a metaphor for Uzbek independence as experienced by Makhmudov: a cruelly ironic reflection of his desires distorted by corruption and violence. A regime whose rhetoric of freedom belies the fact of his imprisonment; whose constituent parts are used as tools of violence against him. Into this mirror Makhmudov gazes and observes as his body, along with his vision of independence, wastes away.
His one weapon remains his writing. Just as he once wrote The Eternal Mountains to express dissent against the Soviet regime, now he is driven to write letters to the Uzbek president and to others in the outside world about the truth of his imprisonment, and that of other people like him, other "sons of Uzbekistan".
Imprisoned, Mamadali Makhmudov finds that writing continues to free his voice. And perhaps, if enough people come to pay attention to his ongoing plight, it will eventually free the rest of him, too.