The Road from Biloxi

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.

Copyright © by Khaled Mattawa. Used with the permission of the author.