p
o
e
m
s

for S.H.

 

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 engines 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

‘we’re through.’

 

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, 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,

wanderer of the wastelands?

André Naffis-Sahely is a poet, critic, translator, and editor. He is the author of The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life and the editor of Poetry London. His second collection, High Desert, will be published in June 2022.

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