Leaving Egypt, 1945
“. . . say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing”
— C.P. Cavafy
A girl with pigeons in her sleeves
leaves the house where her mother sleeps
on the night’s white backbone.
She walks without shoes
along the corniche by the sea,
her hair tethered to the waning moon.
This is what the girl loves most:
lamb carved from a shaved cone,
cumin and coriander seeds,
balloons of jacaranda
bursting on a low stone wall,
the sweet sting of Alexandria
already drying on her tongue.
The girl opens her pocket of secrets,
pours them onto the sand.
She learned early not to sleep,
to listen for the clink of army boots
on the vestibule’s black marble floor.
She thinks of her brother in Palestine,
mouths the titles of pamphlets
buried in the cellar floor.
Her mother dreams that America is Egypt
only colder, no swastikas sprayed
across every Jew’s apartment door.
The girl speaks only French
to the chalky slip of moon.
She pretends she is marrying
a British naval captain,
that he will arrive on Rue St. Laurent
in a starched white uniform and steal
her away from the packed brown valises,
the pigeons with their broken necks,
the sterno where her mother stoops
to cook a pigeon stew. All around her
the girl sees lovers leaning close to the sea.
When she turns toward home,
the city snaps shut at her heels.