by Phil Slattery
I met him at a party in Cairo in '89
as the shadows of the palms
stretched drowsily across the yard
He had the world-weary look
of the young expatriate,
the look of too many broken visions
and muddled dreams.
Now he worked on an oil platform in the Red Sea
Before that he worked in Somalia
He remembered near his barracks outside Mogadishu
there were warehouses full of rice,
sent out of foreign charity
to feed the hungry.
But the impoverished government had no trucks to move it
was too ineffective to arrange for any.
So it sat.
Starving women would gather outside the doors
gleaning the few grains that fell from cracks in the walls
or from new shipments arriving.
One night he awoke
and saw flames along the distant horizon.
"What is that?" he asked someone.
"The government's burning the warehouses.
They couldn't ship the rice and now it's rotten."
I looked at him for a moment,
then he at me,
and for a moment there was pure silence.