I was having dinner with my friends Howie and Francine.
The restaurant was old, maybe five hundred years:
whitewashed walls great black beams on the ceiling,
no windows. We felt we were in the midst of history.
As Americans, the past seemed absent from our country.
The waiter kept knocking his head with his fist, trying
to explain something. The only words we knew were Pivo-
beer and Dobro-good. Hitting his head like that,
he seemed to be telling Howie he was stupid. First
he would form his hands into a circle, then he would give
his forehead a smack. The waiter wore a white jacket,
black pants. Perhaps he was twenty-five. Okay, said Howie,
sure. Bring it to me, whatever it is. This was Sarajevo,
the spring of 1989. A week of poetry readings, meeting
other poets, strolling with ice creams, attending the Saturday
night dance at the old hotel, no different than dances
I had attended in Iowa or Pennsylvania or Detroit.
Near the Princip Bridge a pair of bronze footprints
were set into the sidewalk. We each placed our feet
into these bronze souvenirs. This is where Princip stood
when he shot the Archduke and his wife. When the waiter
bought our dinner, there were our plates and on Howie’s
plate a paper bag., like the bag in which a schoolboy
packs his lunch. Howie opened it carefully. Brains
in a bag, lamb brains cooked in a paper bag. We recalled
how the waiter made a circle, then knocked his forehead.
This was Howie’s dinner, He was delighted. He could
barely breathe for all his laughter, We all laughed
and drank red wine. The other tables were filled
with happy people, men and women eagerly discussing
the subjects of their passions. When the door opened,
there was music from the street and a warm breeze
smelling of foliage and the dust of a thousand years.
There was the constant clatter of silverware on dishes.
The waiter laughed with us. He is probably dead now.
Killed by a sniper as he crossed a street or stood
by a window. The restaurant, the entire block, has been
transformed into rubble, so many rocks at a crossroads.
I’ve seen pictures in the papers. And those other diners,
those easy eaters, those casual laughers? Some
on one side, some on the other, some blown to pieces,
some shot in the head. Scattered, scattered.
But all that came later. On one particular evening
The waiter brought his tray with a paper bag on a plate
And we laughed. A fragment of that sound is still traveling
so far out into the dark, and arrow perhaps glittering
in the flicker of distant stars. Somewhere it still moves.
I must believe that. Otherwise nothing else in the world
is possible. We are the creatures that love and slaughter.
-- Stephen Dobyns