Letter from The Djenina Hotel, Tangier

by Nina Rubinstein Alonso


How to leave this place

Veiled women whispering in the sun
Wild birds flying up to caged birds
And artfully stealing seed through the bars
This unplanned-for ease

With what repelled me
What disordered with fear
One eye-blink resolves
Into a new dream

I’m standing in afternoon landscape
Near the never-to-be-familiar hotel
And the taste of sky-reflecting aloneness
Is round with satisfaction

It’s delicious here
I never expected to find
These feelings
Wedged between feelings.


I’m slightly hypnotized
But by what I’m not sure
Until the manager
Now my graying uncle points
Politely to the calendar
With his black pen

And I find the year carved
Like a pan of jelly into twelve squares
The squares into day-slivers
The cross-cuts of hours the minutes
The pointilliste seconds the flooding
Sub-particles of passing time

I have floated along
Neither subtracting nor adding
Unwilling or unable to notice
Two days slipped into ten
Until Monsieur explains that the room
Is promised to someone else

And if we stay next week
He must move us to another
Without a sea view
And it’s been grace
To wake on the measureless
Shining blue ocean moving

Beyond phantom palm trees
Past the tough-fingered avenue
swarming with sellers
Corn on the cob coconut hashish
Toasted almonds sex knitted caps
The predatory festival of strangers.


Whole pieces of days
Resist naming
We walk into

A big tent a green canopy
Shading hundreds of watermelons
The air wet and sweet

Echoing music of men
Haggling in three languages
Laughing over the squat eggs
Of pink-meat earth animals

The shade over us is
A melon husk and we are
The living seeds inside

Here in Tangier interpretation
‘n’existe pas’ it simply
doesn’t crystallize

The eye sees
But can’t focus
The mind web flares
Floating wide open.


The mantis tonight
At the sidewalk cafe
Is brilliant luminous green
My heart jumps

This impossible bug
Is praying its way
Across the white tablecloth
Next to us
Tipping his head

He pauses
An imperial gem
On a leftover slice of potato
Then climbs up
A brown glass bottle

The better to stare
At me as if through me
The speechless fire
Of insect eyes

The waiter gently
Picks the bottle up
And carries it off
On his silver tray.


I sleep here
Temporarily guiltless
The translucent breeze
Shivering with energy
The water’s loosening
Orgasmic mirror releasing
Light upon light upon light
The glare of it passing
Without surprise
Through the shell
And cavern of my body.


We book passage on the dingy
Ibn Batouta a dump of a ferry
That swoons across the harbor
Tangier to Malaga every day

We pack and send parcels of shoes
Studded belts and striped djaballahs
Wondering if anything will reach
Cambridge of the circling clocks
Or will our trinkets disappear
Into someone’s enormous pockets

I only know that if I don’t leave soon
I risk further deletion
Of boundaries of realities

The drift already so strong
That I don’t know why do anything
I can’t be sure whose face
Will appear in my mirror after lunch

One self found already
Staring at a blank page.

(first appeared in
Constellations vol. 1)