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).

THE ROOM

It was a strange room,
that much I recall, with heavy
velvet curtains covering
what should have been a window, 
and might once have been, but no longer. 

The only light was a bare bulb
in the ceiling, casting 
a soft amber wash across 
the time worn oak floor,
and once white walls.

There was a chair, nondescript
and now long forgotten
and a small metal table, once
gray its paint flaking, its surface
mottled and uneven.

Still, I sat in that room
for an hour each day, staring
at the walls, and looking deeply
within, and finding both empty,
have never returned there.

SIPPING

I spent much of the afternoon trying
to imagine you, spending a small part
of an afternoon reading this poem.

I have no clear picture of where you are,
but the chair is well cushioned, and
you sit deeply in it, a glass of some

amber liquid on the glass and metal
end table, just within arm’s reach.
I suppose, since it is early afternoon,

it is iced tea, bit I wish it were a fine
IPA or better still a fine single malt,
though that much would give my poem

a meaning I never imagined, but
that might be an improvement, and
I think I’ll stop here and join you.

WEAVING

She plucks the odd loose thread
puts it on the table and finds another
and a bit of what could be twine.
She weaves them together
loosely, with seeming abandon
until they are an ill formed braid
barely hanging together, a jumble
of color and fabric,
a true hodge-podge.
But when she says
to all of us gathered,
“look at the amazing tapestry
I have woven,
we all nod approvingly
and for a moment, when
we look away, we see
the intricate story she
sees so clearly and believes
she has so carefully told.

SUMMER, THEN

For three days I was
a short order cook
a change from my table duties
when the regular guy decided
that a night of drinking didn’t end
when the bar closed
and broke back in
through the rotting back door
that was always next
on the list of things to be fixed.
The owner, my boss, said he’d wait
three days for the cook
to dry out in his cell,
but my cooking made him reconsider.
Yet the customer still came, paid
Were patient, and after
the three days past,
and the old cook couldn’t make
even his nominal bail
the boss hired a new cook
and I went back to dishes
and filling coffee, and looking lovingly
at my dishwasher, my friend
for a too long too long summer
until I went back to college.

MEMORY OF THE VINE

The conversation flows freely,
piles up on the table, amid
dishes from a meal
now fully consumed, as the
last of the wine reluctantly
cedes its grip on the bottle
and settles into the glasses.
In Abruzzi, the vintner
imagined this, staring
at the grapes pulled lovingly
from the now ancient vines.
As night draws its curtain
ever tighter, as hugs
replace the conversation,
the rest of the grapes
settle in for a final sleep.