R. T. Castleberry

Leaving Alexandria

From a balcony above the Eastern Harbor
I treat the scene as photographs for a file:
horizon's passive line of curving bay, anchored ship,
bathers splashing in the early surf,
a seaplane's banking turn from the water.
I take Tom Stoppard's plays, a Fodor's guide, a map case
and place them beside the pistol in my pack.
Open on the bed is a letter.
"Tell me what was said," is the only line.

I have wandered my history, to no good purpose—
every mistake I've made crowds me in my sleep.
I recall every grievance, each discourtesy,
rooms I've entered to win or wound someone softer.
I've loved 3 women­
all married, and lonely in the world.
I never meet the children. I sometimes know their friends.
I enjoy their confidence, my detachment,
the skilled and hungry sex, a little drama.

There is a seasonal pleasure in waking with a lover—
the sleepy tangle of bedclothes and bodies,
a bath and brunch, a kiss to set another date.
There are other, private times I prefer
the challenge of a married woman's mind.
A wife who's known
the comforts and discomforts of a child,
long years, lingering moods beside her husband.
I lean to listen
for wise advice on healthcare and clothes,
business manners, the public polish.
I know the taste of her,
the rise of her mouth to mine.

As we walk the Montazah Palace Gardens
she tells me some snoop,
some over-eager officer has seen us at an inconvenient hour.
"My husband's home. He'll want to see you.
He'll be cool. Calmer still, as you talk. Don't trust it."
"I don't imagine that will happen. Can you handle him
when I leave for Lisbon later in the week?"

The serial life has stripped me. It poisons as it protects.
I bear no malice, as I can bear no bitterness.
A steamer leaves for Tunis in an hour.
When I land, I'll make a choice for Marseilles or Montreal.
On my desk the jumble of a Cairo newspaper reads:
"Attempted Murder/Officer's Suicide."
The photo spread shows a body beside a car,
another wounded behind the wheel.
I have no faith in explanations, in truth told to pain.
Strangers before, we are strangers from now on.


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