March 25, 2023

Hills Like White Elephants

by Benjamin Balthaser

On Jaffa Street, I watched Russian
mobsters beat a man to death

in front of a bar.  The sound
of the pipes striking bone 

was strangely hollow, long
boxes of darkness that drifted

down the empty street.  

All that was left of the beaten man 
was gauze and the black

triangle of a respirator, tangled
in its own cord like a stunned

crow caught in a net. 

The name of my friend is gone
like the war in Africa he

he soldiered. We quarreled pointlessly 
about Hemingway for over an hour —

he insisted there was no abortion, 
and no end to their troubles. 

Like the story, the train
has a way of coming regardless.

The town on the Mediterranean 
was not beautiful.  Little rock boxes

and stucco huts and seagulls with 

with bright red feet.  The friend
didn’t make it either:  too many walls 

between himself and home. “I killed
boys with empty rifles,” he

said.  His sweat was vodka, no salt.

When we said goodbye at sunset, 
I could see the dividing line 

between the shore and the water 

like a dark shroud wrapping 
an even darker body.