Two feet from where our jeep drew mud

from the monsoon-rutted road, he stood

talking to the yellow flowers pricked out

against the marching khaki wall of shrubs

behind which the airstrip crouched,

its low growl muffled beneath the hood

of an eat-shoot-and-sleep routine.

Only this man praying at the highway’s edge

could hear the planes take off and land.

To the flowers, his love was clear as day:

he floated above the iron-bound hedge,

dodged watchtowers, gagged on the spiky taste

of a metal creeper growing wild. It overran

the city’s roofs. We drove on, he framed his scene.

The golden rain of the end had begun to fall

when the city locked him in a frieze

of dead lamps, blind walls, gates with sprung claws.

By fading light, he looked hard at the old maw

and while his breath emptied to a final pause,

he grinned and painted the parachute trees

in the mildewed sepias of autumn.

Excerpted from Central Time (Penguin, 399).

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