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).

WAITING ROOM, WAITING GAME

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.”

ESCAPE PLAN

Open the door quickly
for you may find a wonderland:
a bottled djinn waiting for your wish,
a mangy dog looking for scraps
his fur wet and matted, head down.

Open the door quickly –
it may be the entrance to a gallery
or another door, and another
until you are outside
and must open a door to come in.

Open the door quickly
that we might capture the last
of daylight and inhale the aroma
of the first star of night.

Open the door quickly –
the earth beckons, crying out
as a new child is born,
as she is rent to form the pocket
for those recently gone.

Open the door quickly
for the mental  walls
in which you choose to live
have grown boring.

ENTER EXITS

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.