Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Course of Happiness: Birthday 2008

We move through the wild flow of bodies, sometimes faster,
sometimes slower than them. I watch the shadows of people.
Who would they be in the 1920's, in the 1930's?
A vendor gives a tug on an assortment of balloons.

A man sits at the next table in a short billed cloth cap,
the chameleon of occupations. We had gone to Thunder Bay.
"We were on the waterfront in Toronto."
"Lake Ontario," I add to the lady from the Philippines
seated next to the man.
She holds up a black T-shirt with a decal of Mecca
that I remember from a five 'n dime on Devon Street.
"Salaam malakam," I say to the clerk.
His eyes resonate with an understanding of a bird
that has just flown off my tongue.
At the tables in the restaurant Indian men speak low.
A waiter brings a heaping plate of yellow rice
and accompanying curries, yet it is not an interruption.

Tony's four guests might be the party of a great banquet hall.
He knows the secret. Tony knows Mykha, Anton's old employer,
a saint who taught him the trade he loves. She took him to Vietnam
where they traveled somewhere in the country of her past
and the land of his present. Mykha and Anton are travelers
of rural towns, back roads, and small shops. Each adventure,
each mutt that Anton discovers, prompts a scolding from Tony.
He includes me as the sideman in Anton's stories.

The million people of Saigon begin to dance through our meal.
Tony's father held a small office in Saigon, fulfilled his rank,
and accepted no bribes. There is a restaurant at the end of a dock
raised on stilts that Anton and Tony have both been to.
The taxis have an agreement with the restaurant to bring
their richest passengers to dine there. Tony keeps a motor scooter
between the kitchen and the seating area, a floor with a capacity
of thirty seats that defies judgement as busy or slow.
It is Tony's stage where he entertains and cooks. One orders from
a menu of three hundred items and receives their soup, noodles,
or rice. Next, they are served the course of happiness.
On that menu Tony has three thousand items.

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