Graham Barnhart


Have I told you we met a man in Iraq
calling himself king of the Kawliya?
He hosted a dinner. We sat on the floor.
Peeled meat from goat bones. Ate dolma
stuffed plump with eggplant and beef.
Pinched teacups of sugar, settled as fine
as river silt,
                    skimming chai from the surface.
The king said he liked the Kurds for giving
him if not citizenship at least land
on which to host, and if not jobs at least access
here to water. He said Iran is lovely,
and no matter what anyone says
larger than Texas
                              larger than half of America.
The king said we should smoke and we smoked.
He said eat and we learned eating all
of what is offered suggests wanting more.
He said it is respectful to feed another
from your hand, and I remember a man’s fingernail
against my lip.
                         I don’t know what he remembers.
Outside we sat a semi-circle of lawn chairs.
The king said smoke and we smoked. The desert sky
rolled away into dark. Our body guards watched
from their vehicles. In unlit windows the faces of children
luminous and brief.
                                   Then a chair beneath the king collapsed.
Slowly as if melting. He laughed. And we laughed.
We laughed the sound of flags snapping.
We laughed the sound of sand shaken from a boot
of steel shovels glancing stones.
                                                            It’s good luck,
he told us, breaking a chair. And inside,
the women who had prepared our food
and waited with their children for us to finish
were given to eat what we had left.



Graham Barnhart is the author of The War Makes Everyone Lonely forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press Phoenix Poets series. He was educated at Allegheny College and The Ohio State University and is a US Army veteran. He is a recipient of The Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans from The Iowa Review, fellowships from The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Writing Workshops in Greece. His work has recently appeared in, or is forthcoming from, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Boiler, The Gettysburg Review, Pleiades, and others. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow and lives in Oakland, CA.