Their Army barracks were fun in the jungle
outside Lucknow, wide paths to tan buildings,
and men wore caps with quarter-moon fronts.
Do caps keep the moon from shining in?
What do they think of ours-we have a hundred
names, a hundred phrases, and in England
there's just moon, that's all. And think of the quick
words they used--Hello. Cheers. Thanks very much
old chap. Little words from a locked
box and twenty-six letters. So few.
I saw folded napkin, fork-knife-spoon,
cloth and glass and gin-water, gin-tonic, gin-soda;
eating places off in squares like beds
at Christ's Church, headstone, footstone, grass
between. Then the General, he said, Neat,
and a bearer brought a clear drink on a tray.
The silver cutlery clicked on the plates,
words like a storekeeper's coins. I didn't want
to leave, but at thirteen hundred sharp we filed out
by a hundred olive quarter-moon caps.
ppppppppppppppppppp The soldiers
made paths through the jungle to let light in,
wore caps to keep it out, and officers
drove at noon while we sat in the shade.
My uncle, a general, said they are great
adventurers, but their own country is an island.
And when I said island, it was a mint leaf
on my tongue, an almond slice, a moon
with its thin rays on the windowpane.
From WORLD HOTEL (Copper Canyon Press, 2000)