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).
They are arrayed like so much stacked cord wood, pressed against walls indifferent to their presence. They watch the double doors leading to the examining rooms with trepidation, wanting to be next, wanting more not to be here at all, knowing the options are none. He isn’t bothered by it all, this is old hat to him, he knows them, several of them know him by name. He will no doubt be here again and that doesn’t worry him, for here he knows he will walk in and walk out, the alternatives are far less pleasant, some involved simple pine boxes or urns suitable for a mantle, but none of his family have fireplaces and he would hate to be lost for eternity amid the toys and tchotchkes that so define their lives and homes. While others stare nervously, he hears his long dead grandmother whisper “Remember, boychik, pain is God’s way reminding you that you’re alive.”
He says doors and windows are to enable us to come within, to be safe from all that is outside, to make this space a sanctuary. She says windows and doors are to allow us to merge with the sky, taste the river, and sing songs taught us by the moon. The doors and windows know well they do not divide here and there, the last moment and the next – they are illusions stretched across the margins of reality and will disappear with a fleeting thought.