Meeting Places: Part V


The Pakistani tells me.

So many!

So crowded!

You wouldn’t believe!

My first week in country, on a bench
in the center of Sohar we trade smokes.
Salim shares his last voyage, eyeing
his gaunt and jaundiced countrymen
who appeared in the javelins of light
piercing the hold of a cargo ship.

From Karachi to Muscat men fall
into the amnesiatic ocean,
their footprints so tiny, their presence
so muted even Google cannot find them.
The Bermuda Triangle swallowed ships,
but the Arabian Gulf swallows lives.

If they make it off the boat, they are ushered
into a rickety bus, to a vacant parking lot
where the paperwork is processed,
and the legal slavery can begin. The cage
of blue overalls, hot wind, and daylight,

in every direction the roads grow,
Escher overpasses between emptiness.
We drive past them, chain gangs
from the prisons of poverty, darker
than the ground they scrape up.
Their wardens are the promise
of pay checks. Their supervisors,
blue prints, the glyphs of engineers
from the West, designing road beds
from rainy Seattle offices.

The lucky ones fly back, once
every two or three years, some watch
their children grow up in pictures.
My barber has been here, growing
rounder for his last few decades.
His children grow from the bottom
of his mirror to the top, two square inches
at a time. His daughter from dresses,
to skirts, to black, form-fitting gown.
His son from uniform to uniform,
His lanky body slowly consuming
the length of his two dimensions.
There are no family portraits among
the half smiles, but he speaks,
in a language composed entirely of pride.

The unlucky ones go home in boxes
fit for take-out, it could be heat
stroke, a missed infection, or an organ
switched off on a smoke break.
I don’t have to look far to see
the wreckage of a race, the price
of my comfort is only paid by those
forever uncomfortable.

The boats fill for the return trip.

We say dead boats.

All dead, all go back to Pakistan!

Salim smiles as he crushes out his cigarette,
and pats himself down, to assure me
or him that he is not among them.

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