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).
I stooped and spoke to a stone, asking the question. I was here before you arrived and I will be her long after you leave. I held the sand in my hand warm from the sun, asking the question. I came after your arrived and I will leave long before you are gone. I held the winter wind on the tip of a finger, asking the question. I am not here now and I have never been here. I touched the waters to my lips, asking the question. I was above you when you came and I will be below you when you go. I saw the flames dance before me, asking the question. You were ashes once and you shall be ashes again. I stood mired in the clay clinging to my legs, asking the question. It is of me you were formed and it is to me you will return. I sat at the foot of God blinding light, asking the question. You cried to me at birth and you will cry to me at death.
No one looked up when the Buddha walked into the deli and took a seat at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and lean, with mustard on the side, and two slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”
As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, the waitress smiled at him, asked, “Are those robes comfortable, winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”
Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm said, “It all depends on what you wear beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend, but some I know want only organics.”
As he finished, a younger, swarthy man entered, his robes bleached white from the sun, his dark hair long, sandals worn down, and came over to Buddha, sat down with a nod to the waitress, and instantly a corned beef on pumpernickel appeared, at which point Buddha muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”
The seed speckles the snow like buckshot piled neatly under the branch where we, fingers numbed, tied the little chalet to the lowest limb of the ancient maple. The birds stand staring as the squirrel swings slowly in the breeze.
It should be easy, my friend said, to imagine yourself a character in a novel you particularly like, like I’ve found myself in any number of Tom Clancy novels, since I can easily become a CIA agent, it fits me.
I know I’d shoot myself in the foot or worse, and I’d keep no secrets if you even threatened to torture me, and the odds of me finding my own Doctor Watson are slim, harder still since I abhor even the thought of opium, and I gave up my pipe years ago when the girls found it odd or disgusting, not the cool I sought.
So I’m left with being a young Japanese woman negotiating life in modern Tokyo, or the countryside, but I’m nit sure Banana Yoshimoto would buy me as her protagonist, so I suppose I could do a quick deep dive into ballet and try and pass for Shimamura, but I know I’d opt for Yoko and that wouldn’t suit Kawabata at all
Come to think of it, I have a hard enough time being myself, and even as my own author, I find that I would never accept myself as my protagonist, so that role is still available if you would care to audition.
As I stare out the window and watch the snow slowly build on the limbs of the now barren crab apple, painting it with a whiteness that bears heavily, giving the smaller branches a better view of the ground in which their fruit of the summer lies buried.
I am forced to wonder if the tree continues to watch me, if its vision is clouded by the snowy blanket in which it wraps itself this day, and if it does, what must it think of someone so sedentary when it, bearing its winter burden can still dance gently in the morning wind.