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).

ALTERNATIVES

I would much rather
be home, listening to Joan Osborne
on the CD player,
lying on the couch
with you sleeping across the sofa
curled under the cotton throw
coiled against the winter
battering the windows
ca tucked into your knees.

Instead, I sit on the bed
CNN droning in the background
and stare out at the Hoyt Cinemas
the marquee blank but blazing
over the barren street
with the occasional car
sliding by in oblivion.

In Paris the air traffic controllers
have joined the strike
much to the mirth
of the citizens of London
but I will have
to postpone my trip
or perhaps just spend
a couple of days
wandering the Cotswolds
roaming among time worn
tombstones nestled
in the shadows of ancient churches.

In six hours I will run
along the bay, under
the watchful eye of early diners
in the Marriott coffee shop
and the lone egret
standing at water’s edge
watching the giant bird
with unmoving wings
reach out for the sun.


First Appeared in The Distillery: Artistic Spirits of the South, Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter, 1997.