February 2023 - Spotlight on Adam Day
“36 Hours in the Strategic Crescent”
is an excerpt from a book-length poem sequence which utilizes the template
of the longstanding New York Times “36 Hours in _________” travel series,
over which is written a complication of that template’s context.
It is a poem that is deeply concerned with the lives and locations connected
to the recent years of U.S intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it is also
very much a poem rooted in an American sensibility.
The poem is spoken in several registers.
36 Hours in the Strategic Crescent
Nearby Erbil is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (take that,
Ghor!). There I questioned Benedetta al-Nadawi, a card carrying
member who wore a gorgeous lilac hijab, and said, “I love Erbil
in the frost — you get a much truer Kurdistan.”
She owns the Band-e Amir estate. Her mother, Iris Ahmad,
a collector of lost and exiled men, wrote Love in Erbil:
An Erotic Diary, 1943-1944 — the de facto textbook of the area.
or / know he’s here until I hear
my breathing double
and he's beside me smiling
like a fetah shabh.
“This time of year, the clay turns to mud,” Ms. Ahmad volunteered.
“I put on my boots and go for long walks along
the quiet paths in the forest. It’s rather languid and ambient.
And you often see a family of fallow deer.” In fact, wildlife
is a big part of the area’s charm. “The landscape is lush and full
of boar, cape hare and snowcock. Whereas in the summer,
you don’t see many animals, and the fields are plowed
and ochre” — this is John Voigtmann, an American expat, who turned
a crumbling stone barn into al-Hatra, an eight-room boutique
hotel that sits atop the most-photographed of the area’s cedar-lined
roads. With its sleek four-poster beds and infinity-edge pool,
it is one of the rare modern-design hotels in the area. Though,
the electricity is often out, so each room comes
with a propane heater. Al-Hatra abuts the neighboring zoo’s
elephant enclosure, and no one should miss the tiny island
that is home to a siege of green-backed herons whose impressive
wingspans are revealed when the obsequious waders take flight.
Though, on our visit, one bird with a wing dragging like a banner
only humped down shore. “This is the time of year maybe people
are a little more affable. Ghazni comes back to its own life then,”
Mr. Voigttman said, when nudged to speak further. “You see real
al-Anbaris sitting in a cafe, taking arak, a drink that could eat
the live steel from gunbutts.”
4. Drink Decisions | Midnight
Three excellent new night spots opened
in 2013, so drinking options await
the eager night owl. At the end of a dank
alley in an obsolete foundry,
Mesbek Baaj unleashes a sea of C’s --
Champagne, Chivas Regal, Cohibas,
Cartier, and cleavage. Here arak-
sipping, in-the-know locals, smoking sweet
fruit tobacco from narghile pipes, mix
with dolled-up young professionals, cigar-
chewing industry captains and local
celebrities. They fill plush red booths and chairs
to watch a dozen musical acts. Backed
by an orchestra in carmine robes,
the talents range from leopard-print divas
doing Beyoncé covers to the Chehade
Brothers. The $55 or 65,477 dinar
cover charge is applied toward drinks. Looking
to keep the night going, and for a scene suited
to skin-tight leather pants? Then slip into Jaf,
a clandestine club with deafening music
and a fetishist concept (cocktails
and clamps), a kind of authenticity
compulsion, focused on an alternative set
of procedures that attract intrepid crowds.
As you enter the premises—which are kept lightless
with painted windows—bouncers hand you
a small flashlight, and glow-in-the-dark
paint-lined paths lead to a variety of theme-rooms
with the high turpentine of fetid sweat
in the air. Whatever one’s interests—learned
helplessness, environmental manipulation, &c.--
they can be found here: bad boys and girls kept
in total darkness and isolation,
with a bucket for human waste,
and lacking sufficient heat in icy months.
Or clients detained in a central area,
and walked around diapered or nude,
with the short stiff steps of circus ponies,
no matter how hard they attempt to execute
a slinky strut. Or they might
be subjected to rectal examination.
After all, the services are à la carte.
You’re as likely to see these clients hosed down
while shackled naked, and placed in cold cells,
as to see the hallucinatorily
sleep-deprived hog-tied or chained to bars,
hands above heads. There was rumor
of one sub who had been chained standing
for 17 days straight. The club workers’
somewhat strenuous sport is less sadistic
than bureaucratic in its radical
negation of the clients’ dignity.
They will even interrogate you; for an additional fee.
The most highly valued adventurers
are hung for hours, swinging like shadows
pacing a warehouse floor, toes barely touching
cold concrete; choked, thin-lipped,
smiling mouths deprived of food, and made
the subject of mock execution.
Still imbued with that Dionysian spirit, we set out on a brisk
Wednesday morning for the feudal town of Samarra for lunch
and Prosecco. As we drove our black Suburban to the miniature
hilltop hamlet, a troop of policemen on horseback descended a hummock,
and the clouds opened suddenly, as if a swift had ripped a seam
in the sky. It began to drizzle, then pour. Black sycamores steamed
above small stone houses. Along the road stood a jeep
with a silver birch growing where the engine had been. Winter in Saladin
is damp and pleasantly cool, with temperatures dipping as low
as 30 degrees, the sun seemingly listing out of axis, though it rarely
snows in the swale. And the landscape turns to a vibrant shade
of jungle-emerald — the only place I know that’s more gaudy in winter.
me the names of all
the tools and all
Adam Day is the author of Left-Handed Wolf (LSU Press, 2020), and of Model of a City in Civil War (Sarabande Books), and the recipient of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and of a PEN Award.