A few miles away from the main strip,
the casinos and the hotel lobbies,
the grandeur of Caesar’s palace
and the heights of the pyramids,
I found a little sanctuary,
a place to lay my head in Las Vegas.
I remember the cabby who drove us to that place on a Sunday morning
talking about his knee surgery
and how he had to drive his cab for years
to pay off his medical bills.
The reality of his broken life
outweighed the excesses of sin city
and helped to sober us
as we arrived at the All Saints
Russian Orthodox Church
on Mojave Road.
After we tipped the cabby
we wished him luck and entered.
There were no croupiers inside,
no bars beside a pool,
no David Copperfield illusions
but more, so much more!
We received a heartfelt greeting from two strangers
who were beaming with grace
and stood beside us for the duration of the service
caring for us with such tenderness
that it made my wife cry
and my kids smile
everytime they looked up at me.
The choir leader
a beautiful young woman,
led a motley crew of migratory birds
who chanted under her gentle instruction
We were struck by the two black altar boys
wearing what seemed like white neon light gowns
holding candles innocently enough
to warm even the devil’s hands
and the solemnity of the priest
who prayed in earnest
for the life of the world.
It was a personalised unity,
a floral arrangement,
an icon of the kingdom of God.
When the service was finished
we went to the hall next door
and ate Ethiopian food
and met only happy people full of light
and we wanted to bake in their sun.
Two angels drove us back to our hotel
and walked us under their wings
through the Tower of Babel
back to our hotel room.
As we waited at the elevator,
I noticed an old African American shoe shiner sitting on a stool
who appeared to be sorrowful and joyful
all at once.
He bowed and smiled at everyone
who passed him by
and he spoke
the only language I could understand
in that place,
and when he looked over at all the gambling
his red eyes left their sockets
and bounced around
until they rested on a poker table
but no one saw them
amid the kings and queens.
The hotel was called New York New York
and I wondered about the repeating title
and whether it represented
a deep insecurity of the human soul
or a compulsive obsession
with fear, loneliness and abandonment.
John Donne once wrote
that a thing of beauty is a joy forever
and whenever I remember that modest
church on Mojave Road
the baby that is not in my womb
leaps for joy
and I ask him
what he would have said
and done in this wilderness
where almost all people who visit
lose their heads.
He always gives me a similar reply.
He chews a sun dried locust
sits on a cliff top overlooking the Grand Canyon
and with the single intention
of filling the giant cavity with his tears
he begins to cry.