Belfast Rules

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Before Belfast,
We were warned.

Don’t wear green.
Don’t wear orange.
Don’t talk politics.

One chilly night, in the shadows of
martyrdom’s murals and the loyalist pub
where the Catholic girl’s throat was gashed
for drinking outside her faith,

One chilly night,
still pondering the clanking
steel gates that swing shut every night,
sequestering neighborhoods,
historic hatreds and
anguished armies,
we broke our mandate.

Our cabbie understood.

I was once a cook in a restaurant, he said.
One day, a co-worker asked: Are you Catholic or Protestant?

I told him my parents came to Ireland from Pakistan 60 years ago.
They were Muslims, but I’m not religious.

A while later,
My co-worker came toward me.
He looked puzzled.

You told me your parents are Muslims, he said.
But are they Protestant or Catholic Muslims?