Books by Diane Frank

The All Night Yemenite Cafe

The All Night Yemenite Café

We've been walking around Jaffa late at night,
on pilgrimage to everything
that artists want to see —
the ancient well by the art center,
walled walks below clusters of lights
like Babylonian flowers or ancient moons,
fishing boats by the harbor,
the Mediterranean Sea,
and the night sky of Tel Aviv
from an elevated walkway.
Artist galleries, murals, fish restaurants,
and hidden places for kisses.

In that deep melodic voice
that reminds me of everything I like in a man,
he tells me the wild crowd gathers
at Nargila, the all night Yemenite Café,
after 2:00 in the morning.
He tells the waitress we want to sit outside,
and she hands him a 12-page menu.
He opens it from the back
and shows me a picture
of a dark man and a blonde woman
feasting on each other.
He says it helps the appetite,
makes you hungry.

He turns the pages slowly
to show me erotic pictures and wild poems
between the prices of the food.
Naked women next to ancient Yemenite treats.
While our food is being cooked,
he translates an article from the Late Evening News
telling how the religious tried to close the place down,
but the City Council said there wasn't a law against it.
Below this, the owner's response is framed by naked women.
He says the restaurant has two menus
and "yekes" can order from the other one.
That's an Israeli word that sort of means "nerd."
Besides, the Yemenite restaurant next door
with the regular menu is always empty.

We order eggplant, pitas,
and a Yemenite treat called "Ziva."
It's curved like a snake,
but has a woman's name.

Two 17-year-old boys come into the outdoor cafe.
They're laughing, looking at the menu,
reading every word,
and trying to think of something to order
so they can keep looking at the pictures.
It's 3:00 in the morning by now.
A group of tourists come in
and ask if they have a different menu.
The waitress says, "I can give you
the one for people under fourteen."

Since it's my first time,
the waitress gives me a bumper sticker
that says "Nargila, where they sell pleasure
and Yemenite food."
I think about putting it on my car in Iowa —
something completely wild
that the fundamentalists can't read
and wouldn't understand if they could.
But my friend says Hebrew letters
might make me a target for terrorists
even there.

The food is so spicy it makes me burn
and stirs my appetite for deeper things.
He is Yemenite too, so I bite his fingers.
Now we're hungry for dessert,
so we drive home through the almost deserted
streets of Tel Aviv
for something much better than food.
And in the morning
after three hours of sleep,
we both wake up laughing.

— Diane Frank