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Mike Gubser

“Take me to the baby cemetery,” I told him. “Lonely Planet calls it
the only sight in town.” A graveyard full
of children on
the Sumqayit outskirts, dead
from violence, pollution, disease. He gave no
answer, so I used the
dictionary. “Детское клáдбище?” “Qabaristan bebe?”
The taxicar hissed
on the asphalt, and quietly,
in slow English,
he responded, “There’s doubt about the place.
Maybe it’s gone,
or built over. Made up, or
never was. Maybe just
a traveler’s story.” Then the engine leaped, and we
raced through Sumqayit, speeding north
to picnic by the Qudiyalçay river, where teenage boys roughhoused
in a muddy summer bed. I took tea and cookies at Yanar Dağ hill, the old wall of
oil fires burning my eyes. From the five-fingered rock
to the caravan temple, I joined ancient pilgrims
and wax zoroastrians
worshipping flame that shrine attendants charged
to light. Past tree-high
stanchions and fuel-pipe casings, we drove to his home
in a bricked-in yard, dirt square on dirt vista,
his wife and daughters
silent across the coir,
his two daughters with silver trays, candies on doilies, warm
tea in cozies, and a stuffed horse sprawled
on a canvas couch. For $80,
he chauffeured me to fire, to stones,
to the north and back south, diverting a man with scene after scene on broken roads
in a dusk swollen ochre with
flame. This was
how fascination grew, in holy heat and fire, missing
the babies, all the dead
children belonging
to no one, to me least of all, a failed voyeur, the children
lying somewhere in oil, buried underground, and
he missed them, he abandoned them, and whenever will I get another
chance? Maybe they were never there, maybe they were still alive, and maybe I was just a boy
digging in the hot land, searching
for something to

Mike Gubser

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