The Road from Biloxi

Khaled Mattawa - 1964-

Qader blew at a cigarette, stuck his head
out the window. Carol wondered why she left
was beginning to see living in peace
with Sandanistas in her father's ranch.
My brother and I up front wondered why
we hadn't killed each other all these years.
We were stuck on the Biloxi highway, mid-July
the AC kaput, and what the radio played
didn't matter, Randy Travis on the rise
declaring the end of disco, Reagan, Meese
Jane Fonda, and the gain in the pain
and we all felt like burning American flags
on behalf of a thousand justifiable causes.
But who cares, we were stuck for hours
stuck in 1982, and what blocked the way didn't matter
and the ocean we went to see was no big deal
a great disappointnent in fact, an ocean
brow-beaten by a river, rumbling, moaning
black eyed, bruised, weighed by Mississippi silt.
And the salty air we came to breathe
did not appear, only swamp algae
and the death smell of moss, the slime
the invisible webs that trapped ghosts
in lukewarm water, the dead who would not dissolve--
Tom Sawyer, not dissolving, Huck Finn
not dissolving, Big Jim not dissolving
Goodman, Chaney, Medgar not dissolving
Cherokee tears floating on top like drops of oil
Lakotas still streaming down, Kiowas
still coming down, Sioux still floating
still in the Mississippi where everything seemed
tenuous, everything seemed it would revert back
to the dreams of sickly pale men and women
back to the nightmares of runagates and domestics
all hanging there, in the air over Biloxi
clinging to crayfish and the gnarled hands of shrimpers.
It sat there ominous, a poisonous lethargy
not far from the town we lived in, which God knows
did not matter, making tomorrow matter even less
as long as we were here the week after and the month.
Next time, we promised, it'll be the Atlantic, next time
some salty immensity, some honest to goodness breeze
the smell of the earth turning around itself,
a clear run to the horizon, a cleans shot to Africa,
to something we could beckon and understand
something the waves would release us from
now that we were stuck here on the Biloxi road
chained, and chain smoking, aware of the sea
we left behind, and that had left us, the Mediterranean,
that other swamp, too far to touch us again,
too far to ever matter.

More by Khaled Mattawa


The trick is that you're willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you're doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you're providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they've come too late.
The trick is that you're willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say "too much,"
give them a plan.

And when they say "anger" or "rage" or "love,"
say "give me an example."

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don't care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.


Will answers be found
like seeds
planted among rows of song?

Will mouths recognize
the hunger
in their voices, all mouths in unison,

the ah in harmony, the way words
of hope are more
than truth when whispered?

Will we turn to each other and ask,
how long
has it long since?

A world now, a world then
and each
is seeking a foothold, trying

to remember when we looked
at one another
and found—A world again—Surely

what we long for is at the wheel 

Surely, we'll soon hear 
its unearthly groan.


Yardley, Pennsylvania, an expensive dump
and the van seats shake their broken bones.

Duty-free liquor and cigarettes,
the refineries and the harbor's cranes.

The moon digs its way out of the dirt.
The branches of an evergreen sway.

She's nice
the woman you don't love.

She kisses you hard and often
holding your face in her big hands.