at the checkpoint made of tree
trunks and barrels filled with sand,
a group of pale bus riders standing
in a meandering line depends
on one man whose belly will
soon have his blouse buttons burst.

am I a Jew: a Muslim: a Catholic:
which one does he want to hate more:
will my name on the soiled piece
of paper confuse him or make him
pull me out by my shirt sleeve
as if I were a disposable part

of the human race, deemed perhaps
to be worthy of living or dying,
as my uncle used to say, by the look
of my penis: am I saved or doomed
if he suddenly remembers, or I do,
that we went to the same high school:

as I try to keep my sternomastoids
from twitching, my mind from being forced
to accept that someone who has no power
over life is a bigger coward than someone
who does, he positions himself before me,
his sourish breath becoming my breath:

Do you know if Maria’s still there:
his words burn on my face like ember:
there, meaning in the city: and I feel
cold sweat run down my spine: am I
done for if I say yes, or if I say no,
pretend I did or did not recognize him:

but he just grins and hands me
back my papers, moving to a young woman
next to me and motioning with his hand
for her to step out, still glancing at me,
while I rock back and forth, staring
past him, past my life, at the jagged line
of skeleton trees on the mountain ridge
where the dying daylight still lingers.

From Closing Time, Brownsville, VT: Harbor Mountain Press, 2008 – © 2008 Mario Susko

Creative Commons License
The preceding text is copyright of the author and/or translator and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.