The Problem with Me (Beginning with Abu Ghraib) Is the Problem with You (Ending Where the Earth’s Surface Appears to Meet the Sky)
A dog outside is barking loudly. Inside, everything is quiet.
I said I would not, but here I am looking.
Dogs snarling and lunging at men naked and hooded.
Animals don’t know shame, and mine I love
but not so much because love like oil spreads thin and clings—
to the heart, the mind, I don’t know—
and I suspect she gets depressed when I leave her for days on end.
No woman has ever watched me close the door with such sad eyes.
Yes, I’ve changed the subject. Driving to the airport
I think these days people long for what is happening to make sense
or to make sense of what is happening: for example, the woman
holding the leash is smiling while the man attached to it
tries to hide his shame. Sometimes, men want to be like nature.
Speaking of which, all around hanging, falling, falling to pieces
the leaves of oak, pine, maple, magnolia, and cypress—
too many to count. I tell myself, there will be leaves to bag
when I return home, and, yes, it’s a cliché to think this
and then think of men sent home in plastic bags.
Days like today, times like these, I don’t want a damn thing
to do with victims. In the terminal, through the windows,
the twilight almost imperceptible, evening coming on fast,
and the color of the sky I don’t notice.
Waiting, I look around. Nothing here compares to anything there.
I may look like them, but I am not.
On the long flight I take the aisle for comfort, and the illusion
of safety, and I leave the view to the woman beside me
watching me—she looks like someone I would make small talk for,
buy a drink—and I speak kindly, an act like the weather,
as much prophecy as science, and like the weather
what makes me frightening—terror in her heart, her mind—
is invisible, capable of being identified or anticipated
only by those in the know. She has big brown eyes and I believe
that she believes at my mercy she will thrive or perish.
I reduce myself to clichés: talk about the weather.
When she says nothing at all, I think she is like everyone else,
myself included—an expert of sorts:
everyone knows something about someone.
And the wise are interpreters for those who cannot read the signs:
turbulence ahead, trouble to come, and on every horizon,
Hayan Charara is a poet, children’s book author, essayist, and editor. His poetry books are Something Sinister (2016), The Sadness of Others (2006), and The Alchemist’s Diary (2001). His children’s book, The Three Lucys (2016), received the New Voices Award Honor, and he edited Inclined to Speak (2008), an anthology of contemporary Arab American poetry.