Faces on the Ceiling


Jason Hardung


It's been three weeks since Severine died
I've been watching movies of my past playing
across the ceiling of Hotel Insomnia.
All these faces I once knew, cameos
passing through the exit of a film
some in black and white, some in color
piano keys and minor chords banging out the soundtrack
and I wonder where they are now—

Malik and I worked at a cabinet factory together.
I never understood his Muslim faith,
the way he dressed, the things he ate,
the way he got on his knees religiously
as shadows lengthened in the sun.

We became good friends
he invited me over for dinner
he told me his story—

he was a child drawing circles in the sands of Libya
while vultures blocked out desert light
his father went to work one morning,
and never came home.
The family searched four years for him.
Finally, they found out Gaddafi's men arrested him
for something he wrote years earlier.

Malik never showed the pain on his face
but I could see it resting behind his eyes-
a sedated tiger waiting for the next circus.
Malik has his faith here now,
a couple Middle Eastern grocery stores, his wife and children,
his father still standing
behind bars in Africa.

“I can't even imagine how that would feel,”
I said to Severine one day,
forgetting that her father never came home when she was 19,
not from a political kidnapping,
but because he didn't want to live without
her mother who had just passed.
“It's not a good feeling when someone you love
never comes back,” she said without hesitation.

I want to touch the faces on the ceiling.
Tell them, I know pain, I know uncertainty
and I know how a certain breeze can bring something pure
or it can leave a ghost.
We are angry at things we can't see.
Sometimes it's easier that way.