DRINKING TEA IN KABUL*

Rockets flash briefly
across the chilled sky,
plumes of smoke, ash
carried off
by impending winter.

Over the lintel of the entry
to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago,
carved deeply into the marble
Es Salamu Aleikum
staring implacably
through ponderous
brass framed doors
onto the Miracle Mile.
Countless guests
pass below it
unseeing.

My son and I
sit across a small table
spilling bits of tapas
onto the cloth,
laughing lightly
at the young boy
bathed in a puree
of tomato, his shirt
dotted in goat cheese.
My son explains
the inflation of the universe,
gravitational waves
cast off
by coalescing binary
neutron stars.
His words pull me
deeper
into my seat.
We speak somberly
of the jet engine
parked haphazardly
in the Queens gas station
unwilling to mention
265 lives
salted across
the small community.

We embrace
by his door, the few
measured hours run.
He turns to call
his girlfriend,
I turn my collar up
against the November night.

The Red Line train
clatters slowly back
into a sleeping city.
In my room
I brew a cup of Darjeeling.

*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.

First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

POSTDICTIONS

In the beginning there was
a void, stasis, dimensionless.
I am a point, without size
taking form only in motion,
so too the seat on which
I sit on United flight 951
not going from point A
to point B for neither
can exist in motion
transcending time.

Each decision sets
one me on a path, into
a dimension, dimensions
while I tread a different path
and I a third, yet I have seen
the step ahead before
having been on its path
as all random walks
must cross endlessly.
The universe grows crowded
with exponential me’s
creating paths, and so
must expand, until we cross
and in some minuscule
amount contract the cosmos.

Often I seek pain to slow
the pace, or pleasure
to quicken it, always immutable.
I have learned all of this
in my endless search
for my paradoxical twin
who prefers the accelerated
pace, moving as quickly
as possible, who looks
younger at each intersection.
Good night Albert.

First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn 1995.

CASSIOPEIA

You sit on your self-made throne
and stare at the night sky
as clouds gather
and dissipate beneath you.
Do you even recall
why you were cast out,
condemned to your cell so vast
yet infinitely confining?
Does your body remember
the touch of his hand
the crude hunter
who set you aflame
with a white heat
that paled the sun of summer?
What do you imagine
as tongues of the Perseids
lick across the sky
and disappear into
the ebony holes that lurk
in the corners of your eyes?
You move slowly across my world
and only the dawn brings you peace.

First appeared in Abyss & Apex, Spring 2021 Issue 78
https://www.abyssapexzine.com/

HARD TIME

I was only in jail once,
then for four hours, no charges
and my biggest fear was that
my parents would find out,
or the cops would determine
that I was only 17 and breaking
the park curfew was not
even a misdemeanor.

They let me go, gave me
a ride back to the park,
told me not to go in but
I wouldn’t at 2 A.M. 
I assured them,
I’d go home and get some slee
before reporting to the University
for my summer research position.


All these years later I wonder
if that was possibly the cell
that Joe Hill occupied once,
or just what other manner
of criminal I might have 
shared space with, hopefully
someone not merely charged
with violating park curfew.

A SUMMER EVE

I can’t remember what year it was,
or why I was in his apartment, half
sprawled across the sofa, 
my girlfriend sitting with his,
or one of his, he had many,
on the floor, listening to 
Inside Bert Somers, and thinking
that was the last place on earth
I intended to go  that evening.

I recall the wine was good, but
then anything a step up from
Ripple or Boone’s Farm was good,
and the rugs were threadbare.

I was never a fan of Bert, didn’t
know until today that he died
and was buried in Valhalla,
thirty years ago, not long after
my youth did as well, although 
I am here to mourn that at least.

ANGLE OF INCIDENCE

Dusk reflects dawn much as
dawn reflects dusk, and it is
our fear of night and deep need
for direction that sets them apart.

Imagine a photograph of the sun
hovering just over the horizon,
compass-less we do not know
what preceded, what will follow.

We prefer day and dawn, for
it is then we feel in control,
our thoughts leashed, our fears
locked away from sight and touch.

Dusk promises only night,
the darkness where our fears
find corners in which to hide,
only to spring out unwanted.

So we turn away from the sky,
unsinged by its flaming beauty,
hide ourselves from and in fear
as nature laughs at our foolishness.

AGING

We live in the cell phone age
and there are hidden advantages
that the young, exchanging
last year’s model for this,
will never fully understand
until they, too, are much older.

With the push of a button,
held in for five seconds,
the phone will go off at night,
and since no one any longer
has a landline, you are assured
that no one will drag you
from sleep to announce
they are able to extend
the warranty on a car you
sold two years ago,
or to say that a friend
or relative has died,
and denying death night hours
is the closest thing
you can do to feel that you
are in control of anything.

POWER

In my dreams, I have
infinte power and a hint
of omniscience one minute
and am impotent, deaf
and dumb the next,
and there is no predicting
which moment will
be which or when
a shift will suddenly happen.

I generally stay out
of trouble, and when disaster
looms, and I am powerless,
I can awaken, reset
the projector and try again,
although I do have
a nagging fear that one night
I won’t be able to awaken
and I will fall fatal
victim to the disaster
offered up by my
own darkest fears

FIRST KISS

You ask me if I remember
when we first kissed, and then add
and what was it really like for me.

I know the answer you expect,
and I am reluctant to tell you
otherwise, but I have to be honest.

It was moments after I left you
at your door on our first date,
having found my car finally
in the parking garage near
the coffee house downtown.

I had just gotten in the car
to drive to my apartment
in the distant suburbs, and
turning on the ignition, I
kissed you passionately
on the lips, all eyes closed.

And, it was wonderful, though
the kiss we shared in reality
later that month put it to shame.

AN AWAKENING

Take one part
Grand Marnier, one
Frangelico, a short cup
of coffee, whipped cream
only if you wish,
curl on the sofa
with your life’s
greatest love
and your first
real, truly your
first Christmas Eve
makes you wonder
why you waited
so long.

First published in The Poet: Christmas (2020 United Kingdom)