At the borderland between the desert and the plains, Emirate of Transjordan, early twentieth century
Two men sat near the round threshing floor in the western fields. Each with his rifle on his lap. “What a goddamn year,” Tafish said. He had a skull-like face. Small, sunken, deep-set eyes. Emaciated cheeks with protruding cheekbones. A broad forehead with dark blue veins at the sides. Skin like an aged tortoise. His hair and lower jaw were hidden behind a white keffiyeh, held in place by a black fleece cord around his head. His frame was tall, straight, lithe. He rubbed his nose with his hand, letting a low whistle out of his nostrils. By the time he lowered his hand, a pensive expression of disgust had formed on his face. Staring straight ahead, he spoke, as if to himself: “What a goddamn year.”
Between France and Marrakech is a route upon which travels a single bus from Paris. The bus reaches its destination safely, as one might hope and expect. Then the passengers who so desire transfer to another bus, which takes them by an established road to Agadir.
I have enclosed this letter in another sent to Mr. Lama Chobuden1 of Darjeeling, India, and expect by now it has been forwarded along from him to Japan. While I am not without my concerns as to whether or not you will indeed receive the letter, if by some chance it were not to make the passage, I am given solace only by the fact that you are not in any particular anticipation of a letter. That being said, if you are to receive this letter, I am certain that you will find yourself taking some amusement in my fate. First, I am living in Tibet. Second, I have become a Chinese person. Third, I share a wife with three other husbands.
My mother comes to visit me every few weeks. There’s nothing unusual about that, except she lives in a nursing home she isn’t supposed to leave. She wraps what used to be my father’s long winter coat over her shoulders, pays one of the nurses to sneak her out, and climbs into the back seat of an idling car that waits outside.
Stand in front of the window of your kitchen refuge and prepare the following ingredients:
A welcoming, empty green glass.
A bottle of cold, fresh milk.
An orange and brown tin of Cadbury’s Cocoa.
The two large tablespoons locked in an embrace in the drawer (possibly because of your awful dishwashing skills), which have triggered your loneliness. Use them as they are; do not expend any emotion separating them.
First morning in Nueva York, in los EEUU, and Néstor in the kitchen was a stone his daughter rushed around like river water. Two years past her quinceañera, one more year of high school left, thirteen years since he last saw her. Néstor had kept running all the numbers in his head the whole way up to la Frontera, but here and now such compulsive calculations fell away, replaced finally by the actual, the reachable young woman those many years had yielded: Sara.
In the dark blue space between night and morning, Kendra is biking to work in Philadelphia when she sees a flatbed truck, carrying a single steel coil, fueling up at the all-night Sunoco station on Baltimore Avenue. The coil is a giant roll of duct tape, its silver layers wound so tight it looks solid, rising six feet tall, and secured with heavy chains. It sits exactly in the middle of the trailer, loaded eye-to-the-side, as if it could roll right down and off the flatbed. There are words, truckers’ words, for this particular way of hauling a coil, but Kendra can’t remember them. What she remembers is the weekend she rode through Tennessee in her father’s orange Freightliner Cascadia to deliver a coil just like this one. The memory is six years old, but she is always finding reasons for it.
At first, I did not recognize the Haiku Master standing in the porch light so late at night. Who was this old man, so tall and frail he might any second tip over, fall slowly, stiffly, lightly like a hollow tree?
I did recognize the white shirt the Master wore. A style of shirt you used to see worn by men in the Southwest, shirts of thin cotton, short-sleeved, pin-tucked up and down the front, two pockets, square-cut bottom. And then I remembered all the members of the Master’s haiku circle wore this shirt, a uniform of sorts. The same shirt I myself was wearing, one of my father’s. The day before, a month after my father’s funeral, I had left my husband behind and driven down from Denver to Cortez to clean out my father’s house—couldn’t put it off anymore. I found a bunch of these shirts in the back of his closet and put one on. The gesture a combination of nostalgia—the shirts reminded me of my father when he was younger—and the ruthless practicality required after a death. Good cleaning clothes, then good dust cloths, then I’d throw them out.
His coffee lasts. It’s what he starts his mornings with, early, and then he drinks half a cup in the mid-afternoon. It keeps him company. Maybe the smell of it fresh is the reason he keeps sipping it, even after it’s gone cold. Or maybe he has other reasons. Maybe he feels a certain duty, a responsibility toward it. His coffee, poured into a paper cup, changes in color, shape, and size each day, depending on the kiosk he buys it from. The man and his coffee spend the whole day together, and then he leaves it on his desk or the first ledge he sees. He abandons it without a last sip, or even a word of farewell. He leaves the paper cup of coffee and returns to his world, trusting that another one will be waiting for him in another kiosk tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that.