Ismail’s Restaurant, Bitez, Turkey by Leonard Neufeldt

The midday sun boundless as the neighbor’s

greeting.  Hair on fire, I leave the lane’s narrowness

to the oncoming tractor and turn into Ismail’s yard—

gravel and palms. His wife smiles small sweat beads,

bends down to dip into a pail of well water, wipes

her brow and steps over a broom to greet me again.

She can finish when Ismail returns from the garden,

she says, or when Mustapha comes home from school,

but I help move metal chairs and tables from the

pavestone patio into the shade of trees with their brattle

of three black hens scattering themselves in retreat

Once again the day has found its hottest hold.

I put fingers and thumbs to my earlobes until the burn

knows something other than burn and I relearn

touch independent of body or chairs, touch belonging

wholly to itself, the sun rubbing dots of light into

the turned earth on the lane’s far side, where furrows

give up redness, root spikes, thin grey branches,

dry leaves standing on edge for a moment, shiny

as stars from the time of lemon and mandarin orchards

a year ago, when Ismail’s dream of a restoran kept him

awake all night like summer heat not yet broken

A restaurant has never meant the world to me

or let me fall asleep by dawn or sent my wife

in a new blue dress to a gourmet cook-off in Istanbul

to accept a certificate larger than a folio and be interviewed

by food journalists in love with themselves and free food.

I enjoy meals here and the moths in holding patterns

under night lanterns, but today a glass of cold water

that I clasp with both hands is enough for the fingers

to know themselves as if for the first time, to know

that holding on does not have to hurt, and for me to say

thank you and my feet feel the gravel’s crushed white

perfection as I return to the lane that takes me

to a wider lane that takes me to the sea