After landslides and three days’ walk to town,
I get to play the Western stranger game:
a donkey eating cardboard on Main Street
and every other girl looks like a business.
Dogs growl when pinged with rocks, a stooped woman
sweeps the dirt street in front of her shop. Sweeps
the dirt from place to place, while down the block
fire cooks a truck cab cut from wheels, marooned.
The young women in doorways, picking lice
out of their boyfriends’ hair, and the foul-mouthed
tiny boys firing their toy guns tell me
this would be a good place to die. Cheap, fast.
The fresh citrus stink of wet concrete competes
with shit. New buildings, brown walls already
cracking, bulge with cartons of Japanese
color TVs and booze from India.
Bent rebar tears the loose fabric of sky.
Sewage pipes run above and cross the street
leaking. Does a revolution smell like
this? While smoking men hold each other up
and drool, another tries to sell me knives
and money at rates too low to last. Signs
warn BEING CAREFUL OF FIRES AND ROBBERS.
Tonight, over the thump of the hotel’s
karaoke, machine gun rounds echo
from the gorge of the Sun Kosi river.
Try before you buy. Eat what’s on your plate.
This town is a mistake that opium
smuggled from Nepal cannot erase. Numb
in morning cold, I stand at the grated
border post waiting for the bribes, the stares,
the stamp of approval. I’m just passing
through like everybody else. I’m not here,
we’re not there. A pack of small dogs crosses
the border. One yelps wildly when a boy
with a burned face grabs him by his front paws,
swings him around, smiles, and lets him hang.