Smoke evaporates from Camels choked
by the fingers of my two friends who lean
over a railing, elbows pressed to granite
Eyes lost in a blue-black canopy,
made to shroud a desert and the death
we three knew crept
Into homes and tents, under the blankets
of hospital beds, through children’s pores,
out of needles potent with devilment,
the stumps of hacked-away limbs, and
exit wounds ripped by bullet heads
Smoke evaporates from Camels choked
“My daughter-in-law believes it’s wrong. She says it would be taking blood money.”
“You don’t have to take it, Mrs. Levesque—”
“Call me Aline, s’il vous plait, please.”
“Thank you. You can donate it, Aline. You can give it to whatever charity you want. Whatever charity your son would want it to go to—”
“Of course. He would love to support volunteers. He would also love for you to keep a little—”
“If Richard wasn’t a soldier, he would have been a peace worker. I know this.”
“What I’m saying Mrs., Aline, ma’am, is money isn’t the point. It’s not why you returned my call.”
“Excusez, pardon me, the phone.” Aline presses her palm on the sofa cushion and stands. As she shuffles away, her visibly exasperated guest closes his eyes and rubs his forehead.
The phone hangs on a wall in the kitchen. The kitchen is through a doorway and the wall is red brick and jaggedy. More than once, Aline has scraped her knuckles against it when rushing to answer the ring. She did no harm to her hand this time, because she didn’t rush. In fact, she hasn’t rushed for a very long time; months, if she will let herself count. Call it experience or just knowing better. Aline takes her time and no longer carries a watch, a fact that lately results in phone calls like this one, from her sister, who tells her she is late.
“Il est maintenant ici,” Aline says and tells her sister she will be even later for dinner, and no, she hasn’t decided if she will sign the papers, and no, Richard’s father hasn’t called. He’s on the other side of the country, what does he care?
She replaces the phone and spots a tray of cookies and biscuits. The silver plate is dented in the middle, causing the snacks to slide to one side or the other when she places it in front of her guest. He is a lawyer — an American named Charbonneau, a surname Aline finds both curious and displeasing for the same reason: he doesn’t speak a word of French. He says thank you and, to make room for the tray, bunches his documents together on the table, a utilitarian box with drawers and a wooden top with so many scratches and imperfections Aline is certain a bright man like Charbonneau will suspect it was bought used. She again asks if he would like coffee, tea, any beverage, and with a wave of his hand, he again refuses, and Aline retakes her seat.
He presents her with a form to sign and an outstretched pen held between his thumb and index finger to accomplish the task. Aline accepts neither. Rather, she chews a soft cookie while once more listening to his banter, his assertions that it’s the absolute right thing to do, for the simple reason no one else should ever have to endure what her son did, no parent should again have to suffer in the position she finds herself.
The form creeps toward Aline, pushed by digits that are long and smooth, without the calluses that marked her son’s hands. With a feeling of surrender, of acquiescing to stubbornness, Aline presses her palm on top of the document and pulls, easily freeing it from Charbonneau’s tenuous grip. She rebuffs his pen, which is closer to her chin than she would like. A ballpoint is next to the cookies and biscuits. With no other goal than to relieve herself of this episode, she uses it to scribble her name beside the red “X” that sits on the legal paper like a target. The page ruffles as she thrusts it back across the table to Charbonneau without looking up. Her eyes rest off to the side, to a spot on the floor where sunlight radiates through her fern and philodendron and other flowerless plants, and their leaves cast shadows on the floor, bare hardwood.
Sue them, she says to herself. Take their damn money.
I stare across the Hudson
to small, rectangular buildings
with the character of concrete
and feel sorry for the sun
My usual spot extends near the railing,
West Side pier off Christopher Street,
roller-bladers and bike riders pause for breaks,
a trove of gay people congregate
under the shale sky
Couples hold hands and whisper endearments
or embrace to kiss as tour boats drift,
gulls squawk like gossips
A passing Circle Line ferry ambles below the horizon
I cannon imaginary pennies into the river,
flicking fingers against thumb,
listening to water clap the underside of planks
Parsippany and Hoboken and Newark
all claim pieces of the dying sun