Hotel Poem

                               I sat up sleepless one northern
winter in an old padded armchair
               too fear-choked to rest but nothing

                               in fact lurked outside except a wide
shallow river lining a rural route,
               animal trails, and farms. Once

                               a gaggle of green-headed turkeys
pooled around my iced-over
               picnic table beeping like TV martians

                               in the yard. I was alone,
yes. Young. When I lay on my side
               something fleeting sometimes

                               blocked the light. My thoughts flew
peripherally, penciled escaping kites.
               Cold mornings I’d blink in the sunshine

                               mumbling I’m sorry to my memories.
Of course the years must pace
               that echoing corridor, lift each glass cover

                               from collection trays of rare insects
dead decades now. Is it my work
               to keep watch, dust the high bell jars

                               under which the descendants
of pink-and-white lab mice
               nap through the afternoons?

                               I live far from the dark mountain
house now; I take drugs at bedtime.
               Vines reclaim framed embroideries

                               on the library wall. A ring holds keys
shaped like flattened stars. Maybe
               I let myself sleep because you breathe

                               like a sea on the next pillow,
your boy-face unhaunted,
               exhausted.            Easy now.

                               Leather-bound notebooks
scripted with care lose their deckled-
               edges to decay,

but the years do not read.
               They walk barefoot room after room.
Hotel Istanbul

                Cats sleep by the graves;
cats sleep in the park.
                                Cats sleep on the sleeping merchant’s velvet
                dropcloth in the Sahaflar Carsisi.

In the corners between stone walls and gates cluster
                                plastic dishes of cat food and tubs of water.

                Rosewater pudding in a foil cup:
cooked grain, almonds, pistachios,
                                golden sultanas, coconut.

                If you are cold, sit by the brazier.
If you are cold, wrap your hands around your teacup.
                                If you are cold, lie on a bench in the sun.

                Walk past the old prison.
Walk past Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Blue Mosque.
                                Walk past the dead under their toppled stones,
                the gray dog dreaming, the two-story dessert café.

Turn, gulls above the minarets.
                                Turn, ravens on a railing.

                Past chestnut roasters and corn cob vendors.
Past the pomegranate juicers.
                                Past the cats curled on a pile of rugs.
                Past a man whose back they are loading with boxes.
Past the strait, past the sea.

                                Every panel of every vista brilliant.
                What is it,
what is it that you want?
Hotel Budapest

Though Szt Istvan’s mummified forearm is not on display,
                                                                                                                                a golden ceiling
strikes the afternoon dusty light down the touristed apse
                and out the door over the cobbled square in front of his Basilica.

                                                                                                     The bathroom in the coffeehouse
across the street requires the code printed on my receipt, crumpled in the garbage.

The market sits on Vamhaz Korut but we miss the market;

                                I do not buy anything in Budapest except museum tickets,
passes to a concert in Matyas Church
                                                and the best ice cream in Hungary though I do not know it at the time.

Szt Iztvan is everywhere;
                                                                his statue gazes stonily back at the Cave Church
which we do not pay to get into by the famous baths we do not pay to get into.

                A lion on Szecheny Ianchid turns his exhaust-stained back to me
by a pile of urine-soaked cardboard. Old everything written on by new.

The old everything hanging onto the banks of the Danube for dear life.

                                Once this was a dear life probably but time is relentless,
buildings over-heated and a wine festival raging on the museum lawn,
                                                                folk dancers flying in circles across a makeshift stage.

Each decision I make feels like a mistake so jet-lagged
the money in my wallet could be lettuce
                because how can something ever cost 12,000 of anything?

Budapest curls its tail around its nose and settles into evening;
the jazz club bolted shut.
                                                                                    All those beautiful jewel-box galleries fading
like a big tired fish finally caught with the memories of the ballrooms
he travelled through under-water, who can say that is not so?

                                                                                                                The splendid chambers
gone forever. I want to sit in a ruined museum-palace doorway,
slouch in the guard’s black plastic chair and stare at the same mediocre
El Greco until the light is gone.
                                                                                                                The kitchens will be closed early
but we can drink together at a little table on Szentharomsag as long as we want.
Villa Romana Balaca

                Spring brings wind and water to the ruined gardens
of Pannonia, fruit tree boughs toss across
                                gravel orchard paths as if wildly
                dancing, offering armfuls of swirling sleeves
to the ghost-villa guests.               Doves chuckle
                                above a rock tracery; chambers
                drawn deep into the grass, bones
revealing a millennium.               Time glides unbroken
                                where once
                robed women gathered downed branches
from the walkways.         Sage bushes still bloom
a very pale shade of purple.
                They painted these walls with stylized plants,
beautiful lizards, birds, plums;
                                patches constellate the plaster like love letters
                scripted on wet paper,
still sticking where thrown so long ago.

                                Someone carefully pressed tiny fragments of tile
                into the shapes of nature.               Bees sing
their busy questions zipping flight-lines
                                over the warm stones:
                How long will you stay this time, human?
Did you make your art to mark your tomb?

 Photo by MemeSanchez

Katharine Whitcomb
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