Sue Eisenfeld

Night Out in a Deserted City, Home, On the Train Between: Sue Eisenfeld

Night Out in a Deserted City

Hunting scenes and golden walls,
a nostalgic nod to the British Raj.
Steps from the White House, a gentleman’s club
of four presidents and Harrison Ford,
though none had ever eaten anything as exotic.

Mandela supped on salmon, tandoori style, and roti,
sitting by white shutters in a half-moon banquette.
Flaming liquor flickered cobra coffee
on a strip of orange peel spiked with scotch.
Three decades in, it still tasted like luxury.

The city of the future was Washington, DC.
Now, it is all elephants and cows in the street.
The patio is empty. One server struggles.
There’s no room for weakness in this city of dreams.
Otherwise, before you know it, everyone leaves.

This poem is a pseudo-cento, created from and inspired by reviews of The Bombay Club in Washington DC from 1993 to 2022.

“The Bombay Club: Michelin 2022,” Michelin Guide; “Indian Fine-Dining Institution Bombay Club Reopens With a Fresh Look and Revamped Menu,” Washingtonian, Jessica Sidman, August 4, 2021; “Peek inside ‘the iconic, newly redesigned Bombay Club, which reopens today!’” PoPville (Prince of Petworth), August 2, 2021; “Three decades in, Bombay Club still tastes like luxury,” Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post, October 10, 2019; “Excellent Indian food in a delightful atmosphere,” TripAdvisor Review, October 2, 2016; “Elegant ambience, delicious food, nice service,” TripAdvisor Review, July 18, 2014; “Feeding the Powerful,” Judith Weinraub, The Washington Post, September 16, 1998; “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” by Ken Ringle, The Washington Post, November 1, 1993; “The Bombay Club: History,” The Bombay Club.


I never noticed a sound in my childhood room in Philadelphia,
not the horn-blaring, teenage screaming, razzle-dazzle nighttime streets of Philadelphia.

I slept deeply in my fourth-floor apartment, at the rim of the Locust Street canyon in my city,
cocooned in the swell of motion, swarm of humanity, mellifluous cacophony of Philadelphia.

My grandfather taught me gingkoes and sycamores by bark and by leaf, his witty
sayings seeding the soil of the square, sprouting my love of the natural world and Philadelphia.

The riverbank was a land of cobblestone and brick, jagged sidewalks, broken curbs—a pity
for the old forest woods, marsh, and wide sky the settlers slashed for Philadelphia.

Pig pens, brickyards, a film of glass and lead turned the Country Towne gritty.
I remember finger falls on black windowsills, refinery dust between my toes in Philadelphia.

I grew up on a substrate of steel and stone, not sunsets and mountain ranges, an unwitting
sheltered place, the 2-mile radius of my life. I didn’t know what I was missing in Philadelphia.

I ask my mother (who lives alone and doesn’t drive) if she feels cooped up in the small city.
She says, “There is no place I want to live that’s better than my neighborhood in Philadelphia.”

My parents named me Susan, the dog’s name was Love. Like an eagle, I imprinted on the city.
But then I flew, birthed into the clear morning of the world by my first love, Philadelphia.

On the Train Between

The grey sky shrouds decrepit cities.
Broken windows of the old brick factories
reanimate for a moment only, in retrospect.
A dense fog cloaks the old canals, dug forever
into the marsh, choked by cattail.

Wheels spin the reel of America
along this track, a distance too long
even to try remembering.
What is it like to live at the end of time?
I cannot tell the water from the sky,
just a spit of land between two blues,
and one twinkling light dividing itself
on the horizon.

Amtrak, March 2022

Sue Eisenfeld is a 30-year resident of Arlington, VA--an essayist whose work has been listed six times among the Notable Essays of the Year in The Best American Essays. Her poetry has been published in Poets Reading the News: Journalism in Verse. She is the author of two books of creative nonfiction, Wandering Dixie: Dispatches from the Lost Jewish South (Mad Creek Books, 2020) and Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal (University of Nebraska Press, 2015) and a contributing author in The New York Times’ Disunion: A History of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2016). She is a faculty lecturer at the Johns Hopkins M.A. in Science Writing program.