WAITING FOR A TUNE-UP AT SUPERIOR AUTO,
A dark-haired man tells us
that Baghdad was never a beautiful city.
He talks of railroads, Hitler, and oil.
“If I talked like this back there
I would be hanged.” His laughter is crude, thick.
He fills a paper cup with water,
points at the TV each time he says “Americans.”
California is on fire. The reporters talk
over images of mortgaged matchsticks,
the dust, the heat miles from their ash-free eyes.
The man says he fell in love
with an American woman: Diane.
She’s surprised, he says, about how bad
things have gotten in Iraq. He isn’t.
“I’ve been to twelve countries.”
The woman next to me offers that she’s been to Israel,
as Americans who are Jewish or love Jesus do.
The California sky is black, a smoldering halo.
The country lamenting the loss of big houses
built in the middle of a brush pile.
“You know if I ask you a question and you don’t answer
it’s a yes in the Middle East?”
The woman says nothing. I say nothing.
Neither of us, as we watch
wind carry fire and men carry water,
know what we’ve just agreed to.
—from Rattle #23, Summer 2005