Poem with Falafel & Memory of Desert Storm

At Mr. Shawarma, the line is long
on a Friday at mid-afternoon. Navy
dudes are here in uniform, sweating

in their eight-point caps & rough
out boots; moms fresh from hot
yoga next door, their babies

in strollers & toddlers running-
screaming around tables in pastel
Crocs. A veil of fragrant cumin,

garlic, coriander, parsley & scallions
rises from vats of oil behind the counter,
where line cooks are frying up fresh

batches of crusty chickpea balls—
street food from countries in the Middle
East, where America has sent military

troops since at least the early 1900s.
I was still in Baguio at the start of
Operation Desert Storm; my friends

said This is it, this is the end,
as we joined hordes panic-buying
at grocery stores. Stockpiling food,

more than oil or fuel, is always
the first thing on people's minds
in war or catastrophe.

On the radio, we heard songs
making bad puns of Saddam Hussein's
name, & remembered gossip about how

he took a giggling Imelda Marcos
on a helicopter trip to visit the ruins
of Babylon. Everyone who talks about

"the enemy" always has some kind of secret
fascination with them. At this kebab place,
how many people gorging on pita bread

with hummus & lemon oil or large, stuffed
gyros will hiss at women wearing hijabs, &
call everyone named Ibrahim a terrorist?

How is it so hard to eat a small, tasty thing
& think with kindness of those who made it
possible for us to eat such food?

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