The dry August air reeks of wood and ash
and the smoke plumes
leaving the rocky bowl of the San Gabriels
sink to kiss the lawn.
The dogs bark themselves hoarse, their frightened
black throats as charred
as the wounded hillsides. No refuge for coyotes,
raccoons, or the striped skunk
as they scatter like sparks from a camper’s hearth.
What is power if not
the ability to dislodge the living from
their synchronous groove?
After six months of death and disease, the rabbits
stir from their nests
in the crevices of rusty engings and people finally
begin to mourn.
On Verdugo, a cardboard placard stapled to
a half-stripped tree,
reads: ‘Goodbye, Emilio’, or, as the newspapers
called him, John Doe #283,
but nobody’s heart’s large enough to hold all the names
of the fallen. On either
side of the boulevard, a slew
of recession-raptured businesses:
‘to let’, ‘for lease’, ‘pray for us’ – and even the sign
above the gun-store,
ARMED & DANGEROUS says
Today, my distant friend, I’ve only room for questions.
What does endurance mean
if it appears to be endless, what is grass if not gunpowder
what is this chain of encampments
and shanties hugging the freeway if not humanity’s take
on the Great Barrier Reef
each person a polyp on the coral of concrete?
I think of you in Cairo
and your imprisoned comrades, another tinderbox
awaiting the flint-stone
of hurt…It is late at night,
so let every word
draw blood: everything is not going to be all right.
All my life, an unbroken
string of departures, a litany of leaving, but here
and there, faint glimmers
of meaningful connections, including you, my sister
from another mother,
another father, another world. Perhaps we shall soon
meet again, perhaps not,
perhaps the flowers stuffed into the beaked masks
of plague doctors provided
more comfort than safety, perhaps not,
but what gives us solace
between our first lungful of air and the last handful
of lime? The bond,
only the bond. So, where to now,
wandered of the wastelands?
André Naffis-Sahely is the author of two collections of poetry, The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin UK, 2017) and High Desert (Bloodaxe Books, 2022), as well as the editor of The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin Press, 2020). He also co-edited Mick Imlah: Selected Prose (Peter Lang, 2015) and The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann (CB Editions, 2013). He has translated over twenty titles of fiction, poetry and nonfiction, including works by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Abdellatif Laâbi, Ribka Sibhatu and Tahar Ben Jelloun. His writing appears regularly in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement, The Baffler and Poetry (Chicago), among others. He is a Lecturer at the University of California, Davis in the US and the editor of Poetry London in the UK.
This story appears in our April/May 2022 issue of The London Magazine. Purchase your copy here.
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