Tuesday, April 03, 2012

east capitol

The summer’s first moment of true beauty:
A Sunday barbecue on a rooftop patio along East Capitol
that had glazed into the specific kind
of elevated early-afternoon drunkenness
that I’d only seen happen in D.C.
A former U.N. War Crimes Tribunal prosecutor,
on sabbatical from the law school where he taught,
had commandeered a cheap seafoam-green folding chair
and pointed it toward the visible tip of the Capitol,
like his Mecca, his bare feet rested on the cement lip
of the patio with a West African anklet
drooping from one of his ankles just beneath the slacks.

“No, sir, I am going to tell you about love,”
said Ian — that was his name — wagging his Budweiser
at me as he towed the final words through
the gravelly tunnel of his lower throat.
This was a prosecution on how to lead the good life,
and I was the jury. “You young guys keep running around,
sleeping with anybody who will light up the landing strip,”
he said, his narrow expression indicating
that nothing here would be open for negotiation.
“You’re doing it wrong, because you think
you’ll just try and try and try until
you land somewhere that isn’t engulfed in flames,
and then you’re going to end up
with a family for the wrong reasons.”

Like any good prosecutor mid-harangue,
Ian wanted to leave minimal doubt about
which way I’d lean by the time he was done with me,
and sensing inbound profundity, my buddy Pete,
wearing a stupid purple Pixies t-shirt
and playing his acoustic, started cycling around
some gentle Beatles choruses as he listened in.
“I thought this was a story about the right way to love, Ian.”

Sensing my doubt, Ian jabbed his empty beer at my shoulder.
“You find the right thing, and you wait for it.
Don’t be the guy who fucks around
with the right thing when you find it.
The problem with you boys is that you don’t even
bother looking for the right thing to begin with.”

Finished and clearly not awaiting a rebuttal,
Ian stared at the dome of the Capitol,
the man a mass of passive mental energy,
seemingly less in thought than at peace,
a conduit through which only
the universe’s rightest decisions flowed.

Ian had three daughters, the oldest Pete’s and my age,
two of them Rhodes Scholar finalists. His home was beautiful,
I’d heard, though he couldn’t have seen much of it lately.
His wife died of breast cancer in 2005,
and we’d started hearing his name popping up again
on the international-crisis circuit a lot more after that.
He kept showing up in my inbox every time he was in D.C.,
mostly in the form of an imperative: Come out for a round.
I’d sensed either a violent assault on his age
or a conspiracy to launder away loneliness.

“Should’ve indicted Qaddafi long ago,”
Ian murmured as the conversation turned to Libya,
and neither Pete nor I saw a reason to disagree.
I popped open another beer, and flipped the bottle cap
off the roof toward the Library of Congress,
letting myself drift out. We’d all seen the bodies.
Now it was summer again, and the sun already bore down
unfairly on us for so early in June.

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