January 2016, Addis Aba', Ethiopia

by Sedey Gebreyes 

Her boy pulls and tugs until the white crocheted lace tablecloth
slowly spills off taking the silver ashtray with it,
enmeshing the child’s cross legged body, entirely.

Mother-naked now,
the scars and burns of the wooden table top leisurely meet my eyes,
for the first time.
Like an etched trail map,
each cut points me to the next,
leading me back to the hunching
cigarette bud pinched between her fingers.
And I stay there rolling grains of salt like prayer beads,
as if to wind back our broken clock.
I suppose we’re like any old friends.

“Tell me, how is your America?”
(Who has been your America? Don’t say.)

Her half mouthed slanted English implores me to tear open
the old bag of our sub rosa languages.
Distance has made them disloyal,
time has left them stale,
and of such things, I know too much,
still, of such things, I say nothing.

“How has it been here?”
(Who has been here? Don’t say.)

Her son sits still eyeing my knees,
We’re both under the milky stroke of her smoke.
I see a little veiled man-bride, a dove, or a rabbit in a white throw net,
or maybe even a ghost with a silver hat.

I begin to untangle him, carefully,
trying not to plant the seeds of longing
between his soft shoulders,
trying not to leave something of mine behind.
He titters as the white yarn
of the tablecloth snags my nail.

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