Syrian Light and the Leisure of Moths

This must have been how it was
to look down from the orchard hills of Ghota at dawn,
and see Damascus shining far below
and for the last time.

In that light, it must have looked fragile and clean
like acres of card houses.
He had what he could walk with--
the piastres for his ticket,
flat bread for the slow passage, a folded
name and address.

But this isn't the honeyed light of memory; it's coal dust
from the number three shaft mine in Clearview, West Virginia,
drifting through the windows and doors,
mapping the palms of his small, brown hands,
following him into the house where his wife
is raising nine children and living at the stove
with her ginger root fingers and her cabbage heart
             the leaves of which she gives away.

She was a cool round washing machine
             wearing a feedsack apron.
He was a lunch pail and beard full of coal
             gone to the mine with the night's last shadows.

Weaving ruined nylons into rugs,
hunting dandelions in spring,
scraping the bones of dinner
into the black dirt of the garden,
they never owned a car, or flew on a plane,
or tasted store-bought eggs.

What was he thinking, the night
I found him watching the listless way
the gypsy moths kept flopping their wings against
the screen, a dozen opiated concubines,
each of them yawning and waving a fan?

The Syria that was left for him was in his fig and apricot trees.
Hauntng no one in the paid-for house,
settled, but half-homeless
until the breath in his black and clouded lungs
refused to move.

:: Eliot Khalil Wilson, The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go (Cleveland, 2003)

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