Lonely Planet

“Odors that the smolts experience during this time of heightened sensitivity are stored in the brain and become important direction-finding cues years later, when adults attempt to return to their home streams.” –The Scientific American.

I am a fish
the Iraqi man on NPR says quietly
and Baghdad is my sea.
If I do not return to it
I will die.

He is going back to the place
where he watched aghast
as three teenage boys
pulled a man from a car
and shot him in the head
the dark blood seeping down
the narrow street like a scandal.

The place where an old woman
crossing the road to buy bread
her garments billowing
like a ship with black sails
was blown to pieces
by a suicide bomber
who could not bear
to wait his turn at death
but had to rig the race
win by a photo finish
prove himself worthy
of a place in paradise.

Homesick for months
the Iraqi man is happy
now he has made up his mind
to return to the place
where he hopes to be buried
next to his wife, his parents.

The place where his family gathers
to celebrate births and birthdays
eat fattoush, tabbouleh, hummus
remark on the miracle
of merely being alive.
Not like his American colleague
who left his wife for another woman
and now finds himself in a foreign country
missing his passport, visa, compass.

The Iraqi man no longer wonders
if his homing instinct represents
fidelity or fiction.

Lucky to be a fish
that loves its bowl.

from In Praise of Usefulness by Angela Patten