Libyan Reflections



A couple of unread Dickens novels lie on the dresser,
Amid a jumble of diplomats’ business cards,
Libyan mini-flags and a mug celebrating Free Libya;
An adored son’s photo, caught in some version of high school glory,
Lies in the small pottery dish, atop collar stays and Special Ops coins.
A bottle of Laphroaig off to one side beckons with peaty arrogance.

“The Good Wife” peeks out behind a slim biography of a now-forgotten president.
A huge mirror looms over all, casting reflections that remind and distort.
Mirror-lined closets extend this view, which richochets off
To the balcony behind, stacked with patio furniture,
And beyond, to an embassy background of rebar, razor wire, and perimeter walls.

It is his dresser, his closets, his room.
When I look into the mirror, I see his toothy grin,
His sunny optimism, his modest self-assurance,
His legion of best friends and broken hearts.
Nothing remains in the room of his time, just some bits of tennis gear,
A reminder of happier days, an athlete’s ease.

I get dressed in the morning, and review
The little index card of meetings
I go to each day;
They all say they’re sorry, amidst the urgent
Change of subjects, to Cabinet reshuffles, unruly militias,
The democratic transition, and whither Libya.

It should be him talking to young Libyan students,
Learning English and dreaming of becoming doctors and engineers
And archaeologists,
Or listening to an old Libyan boxer,
Recounting his glory days, a few sparring rounds decades ago with a visiting Mohammed Ali
(Before Qadhafi outlawed the sport for being too brutal),
Or presenting condolences
To a local employee’s distraught father on the sudden loss of his daughter.

The lumbering motorcade eventually returns to the embassy:
“Sierra One, Georgia motorcade, two mikes out.”
It should be Tinman rolling back up to Embassy Tripoli,
Emerging from the armored suburban,
And telling the security team he is done for the day.

That is it. Day is done.
I remove my tie and venture a look,
Give a small laugh;
It is his laugh, and mine.

Lights out.
The unforgiving Libyan sun has long since given way to the softer light
Of nearby villas and perimeter wall lights.
The dresser is still visible, the mirror has gone dark:
No burning compound visible in the mirrored backdrop.

I think back to that long night last September: the frantic phone calls,
The unreliable shards of information, the series of urgent plans drawn up and discarded,
The crushing news,
And no time to mourn, then or later.

Tears unshed then are falling now,
Unreflected in the dark Libyan night.

William V. Roebuck, a State Department Foreign Service officer since 1992, is currently deputy assistant secretary for Mahgreb affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Earlier this year he spent six months as chargé d’affaires in Tripoli, where he was sent in the wake of the fatal attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that led to the tragic death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. diplomatic personnel on Sept. 11, 2012.