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Eliot Khalil Wilson Eliot Khalil Wilson, a native of Virginia, received his Ph.D. in critical theory and American drama from the University of Alabama. His poems, which have garnered awards from the Academy of American Poets and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, “enliven us . . . make us more suspicious of our work-a-day lives.” The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go, his first book, won the 2003 Cleveland State Poetry Prize. He teaches creative writing in Minnesota. Syrian Light and the Leisure of Moths This must have been how it was to look down from the orchard hills of Ghota at dawn, and see Damascus shining far below and for the last time. In that light, it must have looked fragile and clean like acres of card houses. He had what he could walk with—the piastres for his ticket, flat bread for the slow passage, a folded name and address. But this isn’t the honeyed light of memory; it’s coal dust from the number three shaft mine in Clearview, West Virginia, drifting through the windows and doors, mapping the palms of his small, brown hands, following him into the house where his wife is raising nine children and living at the stove with her ginger root fingers and her cabbage heart the leaves of which she gives away. 309 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 309 She was a cool round washing machine wearing a feedsack apron. He was a lunchpail and a beard full of coal gone to the mine with the night’s last shadow. Weaving ruined nylons into rugs, hunting dandelions in spring, scraping the bones of dinner into the black dirt of the garden, they never owned a car, or flew on a plane, or tasted store-bought eggs. What was he thinking the night I found him watching the listless way the gypsy moths kept flopping their wings against the screen, a dozen opiated concubines, each of them yawning and waving a fan? The Syria that was left for him was in his fig and apricot trees. Haunting no one in the paid-for house, settled, but half homeless until the breath in his black and clouded lungs refused to move. 310 Eliot Khalil Wilson 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 310 Designing a Bird from Memory in Jack’s Skin Kitchen We hated everything below us. We’d come to hate the ground itself, to dread the heavy ropes of gravity drawing us down from blue to a brooding green which would billow in tan dust like waves of fistic clouds. We’d come to kill the afternoons, to evade the blanket heat by flying out of rifle reach and dropping mortar rounds through the clouds and trees, our demented resentment entirely non-personal. I would come to forget Isaac our Arab gunner with his shell carton filled with baklava and just how mixed he was bearded, but awash in after-shave, dropping incendiary bombs and Hershey bars at the same time, Viet S’mores we called it. How he could shoot his .50 caliber, stoned on hash, as accurate as fate itself. How he’d shoot children and dogs, but not women or birds. Bad luck, he said. Even when they are dead, women and birds remember. I would forget how we found him later in Song Ngan Valley because it’s not remembering that kills you, it’s forgetting, and I started to forget Eliot Khalil Wilson 311 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 311 how we found him mixed with the ground and chopper, repatriated, tangled like a lover, his broken hand up and open as if feeling for rain, or patiently expecting some small gratuity. The visor of his helmet shining the same blue-black iridescence as the glass of Chartres cathedral. Right here, I tell the tattoo man giving him my arm, A blue bird, that certain blue, with black eyes and rising. 312 Eliot Khalil Wilson 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 312 Wedding Vows . . . and I’d like to add that I will mind like a dog. I will wear whatever you like. I will go wingtip. No more white socks. A necktie stitched to my throat, turtlenecks in August. New York gray or black, only colors that dogs can see. I will know of...


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