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).

QUESTION POSED, AWAITING A RESPONSE

I stooped and spoke
to a stone, asking the question.
I was here before you arrived
and I will be her long after you leave.
I held the sand in my hand
warm from the sun, asking the question.
I came after your arrived
and I will leave long before you are gone.
I held the winter wind on the tip
of a finger, asking the question.
I am not here now
and I have never been here.
I touched the waters
to my lips, asking the question.
I was above you when you came
and I will be below you when you go.
I saw the flames dance
before me, asking the question.
You were ashes once
and you shall be ashes again.
I stood mired in the clay
clinging to my legs, asking the question.
It is of me you were formed
and it is to me you will return.
I sat at the foot of God
blinding light, asking the question.
You cried to me at birth
and you will cry to me at death.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

HARLAN

You came, Harlan, to Rochester
somewhere in an endless winter,
“Ellison in Tundraland” you said.
We all chuckled approvingly.

You said a short prayer
climbing into the rusting Opel,
sliding on the edge
of oblivion, and
the approaching snowplow.

You stood, hoarse, smelling
of Borkum Riff and English Leather,
a tweed jacket over a polo shirt
and thinning jeans
and told us of the insanity
of television, a medium
pandering to idiots.
We nodded, hoping
you would finish before
the Star Trek rerun.

We sat in Pat and Sandy’s
as you consumed two orders
of fries, and a dwindling
bowl of ketchup. Later
we sat in the Rat, staring
at the empty bottles
of Boone’s Farm until
you took pity and ordered
two pitchers. You were
our patron saint.

Solzynitsyn was exiled
to a cabin in Vermont,
staring as the leaves greened
and fell under winter.
You served your banishment
in the land of lost souls,
miles from any reality.

First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)

NOTING WEATHER

The weather, he announced to no one in particular,
ought to be musical or at least
incorporate some jazz.

Spring is bebop, Trane and Parker,
the sudden clash of Blakey
the downpours of Dizzy

and the hint of what’s to come
on the fingers of Monk, and
Kenny and Milt.

Summer brings the slow easing
as early Miles slides in, and we
sink into Chet and Stan.

Bebop returns as summer fades
but turns harder, with Dexter
Sonny and Benny and we know

that winter approaches, with its
disconcert, the sun an ever
more infrequent visitor,

Ornertte and Pharaoh reminding us
that the dark cold was our share
until Sun Ra appears on the horizon.

TROTSKY

He slipped the knife quickly
between two ribs as he
was carefully trained,
withdrew it and placed it
inside the raincoat, a bit odd
in the bright sun of Mexico City.

He disappeared into the streets
and later toiled in an endless
series of five year plans,
sharing the small apartment
sharing bread and the lines
always the lines and waiting.

Now in Moscow he remembered
the sidewalk cafes, carefully
marking the older man
in his daily travels, a book
tucked perpetually under his arm.

They talked one afternoon
for hours, even while the doors
were closed, shutters drawn
for siesta, he the acolyte,
the old one the prophet
cast out of his land, a pariah.

Walking across the park
winter grasping his throat
he turned to the men strolling
along behind him and wished them
rotting bread and weak tea.

First published in Eureka Literary Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1997)

SHARING

It wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but
you probably wouldn’t have been all that upset.
It was all about you, but not for you, that
comes later, and we know you’ll be pleased.
This one was for some of us who needed this
to be able to keep going, to keep from looking
only back, into the darkness that is our shadow.
He said it was a celebration, and it was that,
and we put on our best faces, hid our tears
as best we could, and as we stood in the cold air
in the cemetery, we only wished it over,
and when the sun appeared suddenly, we knew
you wished that as well, but in your case,
it was more likely that you wanted us working
on the party we will soon throw for you
and that one, too will be for us, but
among the things we miss you for,
was your willingness, you desire to share.

I WANT

I want the sky to be that certain crimson
tinged with burnt sienna and cinnabar,
but today winter is holding sway
and the sun sneaks off behind
the gray wall from which it only peeked,
and left the day one of grayscale
where intensity replaced beauty
and even the cardinal opted to stay
high in the spruce, offering
only an occasional glint of red.
We come to expect this, it is a season
of colorlessness, and the only question
is whether we can hold out
until spring returns the full pallette
and nature takes up brush again.