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 have no reason to venture to Tahiti for Gaugin took me there years ago, and again on a visit to Chicago and one to New York, or was it Cleveland, it hardly matters, for I know that the Tahiti of my experience no longer exists, touristed to death, itself at constant risk of drowning.
I did have reason to go to Arles, and there searched far and wide for the sky that Vincent promised, or the flowers, but the few stars visible through the lights and pollution of the city were pale imitations of the brilliant lights I know were there aj century ago.
Now I sit in my yard and watch the comings and goings of a thousand birds who deserve to be painted and not captured merely in pixels, for memory, human and electronic, fades with time, while art if not artists can be immortal.
“You have to go all the way to Washington,” he said, “to find decent statuary.” “Oh, you can find one or two in almost every city. Its founder, some general or admiral, some animal that oddly represents a metropolis that has cast out its animals, or penned them up in zoos, put them on leashes. New York has quite a few, Boston as well, and Chicago, well it likes sculpture, but spend half an hour in Vienna and you are overwhelmed with statuary. Maybe they have lower standards there, or far more history, but I suspect it is that they don’t rush about on the winds of whim, despite our endless example to them.
The Buddha died peacefully in his sleep last night in the Emergency Room of Cook County Hospital, his passing was noted by a surgical resident passing by the partially drawn curtain en route to the Doctor’s Lounge after two hours of meatball surgery on a young man with multiple gunshot wounds who bled out anyway despite efforts to save him. The nurse thought it odd that the old man was draped in a saffron gown, not the usual green put on patients who linger past initial triage, but she tossed it in the hamper with the others and gathered his few belongings into the plastic bag which would accompany his body to the morgue. The orderly found nothing odd in the man on the gurney wrapped in a fresh, almost white sheet except that he was remarkably heavy and yet the gurney flowed across the tile floor as though it held merely feathers cast off by a bird startled into flight. The morgue attendant paused for a moment logging in the new body, looking carefully at a face, clearly Hispanic, and copying the name from the wrist tag, Gautama, but then he shrugged and thought perhaps he was Mexican for his name was one he never heard in his Puerto Rico.
I met the Buddha this morning on the corner of Michigan and Ontario standing against the corner of Saks Fifth Avenue. He was dressed in an ill-fitting ochre shirt which seemed somehow lighter against his ebony skin, in the guise of a blind man, white cane against his hip. He leaned forward as I approached, proffered the paper advocating justice, peace and harmony, and said “you are near to the path”, although his lips never moved. Most passers-by arched around him, as though he might step forward and compel them to take his flyer, many diverting their eyes lest they look into his and find whatever it was that they feared at the moment. A few looked for a cup or hat into which to pitch the coins they had plucked from their pockets, purses, but there was none to be found and they walked on, puzzled. I stopped for a moment, dipped my head and said “thank you master”. He bowed slowly from the waist, back stiff and smiled.