It’s hard to escape Little Italy,
it sticks to your flesh—
the church bells, the faces of Mary
that follow you block to block,
the sidewalk tables,
the cigars and the filterless cigarettes.
It’s hard to burn time away
between Bloomfield and Beirut.
Standing on the cliffs of the Corniche,
the man in the crimson shirt,
in the 18th hour of his 51st birthday,
bends down in prayer,
fills his lungs and screams
his words across the Mediterranean to Rome,
where he knows his god can hear him.
He thinks of the mission that he couldn’t
climb to, the statue of his savior
that his breath was too thin to reach,
the mountain’s laugh.
The night’s call to prayer confuses his words,
they fall lifeless into the sea.
He stares out onto Pigeon Rock,
watches the bats swarm,
fills his lungs with salt,
stones, and the fumes of the city.
A pale woman in full hijab
appears at his side, with a face as consumed
by the blank depths as his own. “It’s beautiful,
isn’t it?” Her words bleed through to his lungs,
to his diseased spine, fills him
with hallowed air, and he answers
“Yes, Yes, it’s beautiful”
Published in The World According to Goldfish
Pushcart Prize Nominee