my memories—they were like stars
in that they were fixed, though of course,
if one could see as astronomers
one would see they are unending fires . . .
The lights of the East River bridge
across the night sky, were strung like stars,
as my brother and his girl walked
along the promenade together—
their whole lives ahead of them.
Not far behind Mother and I,
she the pensive one those nights
in the autumn chill,
though for me they were euphoric
as many things are when
you are very young.
The blinking lights of the pleasure boats
moving steadily with the current far off
were breathtakingly beautiful.
That grand river bridge suspended
over it all, over the dark rushing waters,
a Prussian engineer’s vision.
It seemed hung from the heavens.
To prove it was safe for strollers
(as if crossings are ever safe)
they walked 21 elephants
from one side of it to the other,
stored wine in its lower vaults,
even used them for safety shelters.
Crossing from one side to the other—
I knew a little of that those nights.
But I relished the cold sting of
the wind on my face and tried hard
not to fall into my mother’s moods,
waves of sadness, her young widow’s heart
silently living the Arabic prayer for the dead,
so like a hovering cloud in the face of
another young love blooming.
Crossings will come, and there are no
safety shelters, she might have said then,
but she kept her counsel.
I wondered was she, for a moment,
floating back to Cuba in its heyday,
her honeymoon. That intoxicating
island air sweeping through their suite
blowing the white sheers across the satin bed,
or dancing in a trendy Havana nightclub,
her gold halter catching the flickering light
as they moved close together in the dark,
her eyes closed near his cheek,
the sweep of her hair brushing his shoulder—
all the while the stars kept burning
in the perfect, balmy night sky.
How soon, though, the collision of
arrival and departure comes
I began to see—though not so much that night.
We returned to their flat nearby
to get out of the cold and for wine,
a rich cabernet by the firelight.
We stayed until our glasses were empty
and the night swirled around us
like dark waters. We floated on them
as the current carried us inevitably
into a hardly bearable future.
For a time, I tried fraudulently
to deny our common terrors
when they struck without warning—
that is, until I couldn’t.
Later, I admitted they were not like
the loud singing of birds outside my window
calling and calling for the morning light.
I began to welcome the purifying
wilderness as I did years later
the sprawling desert of Umm Al- Quwain,
its blinding heat, a stray camel
or gazelle wandering off in the distance—
but going who knows where?
Photograph by Shiva Kumar Reddy