We filled our mouths with the Alaska king salmon
cloaked in lime-cream sauce,
and our talk drifted back and forth,
until it beached on the war in Iraq.
And though it seemed wrong, we kept forking up the rich
fish that was so tender in our fresh-kissed mouths.
The rock in the cool river doesn’t know the pain of the rock in the sun,
my Haitian students used to say, their muscles
thin ropes straining under taut skin, their cheekbones sharp as cutting stones.
But we know what we know. The waiter hovered. Despite our best intentions
to enjoy a fancy lunch, the children
of that country came to mind, hungry and angry.
And how, and what, can they rebuild from that? my friend,
who’d been a frightened child himself in wartime, asked,
tearing apart a roll and staring at it,
warm as a breast in his big hands. We sat
looking out at the bay where girls in orange kayaks paddled
amid seabirds and flapping flags — everything was gay
in the old-fashioned sense of the word, meaning from a more innocent time.
But the day
felt too bright and too hot, the expensive meal
heavy in our bellies. I ordered tea. He had lemonade. It wasn’t
our fault, the world
that raged and glared beyond our reach.
We had opposed the war. And the mad boy-
president — we’d never voted for him. But in the city where we’d eaten
this good food, people were also hungry. And though we’d given
what we thought we could, it wasn’t enough, and if we gave
more, it would still not be enough; we suspected we might be called
to give something truly difficult
that would take us such a long way
from what we knew, something that we’d so far refused. And yet.
My tea was sweet
and milky, the way I like it. His warm hand sweated on the glass of lemonade.