We were six hours out of Tokyo
somewhere over the North Pacific.
My back was cramped, calf muscles
knotted, longing for sleep
that would not come, the movie
rolling out in sullen silence.
I wait for the night to pass, for light
to break in through the cracks
around the pulled shades
some small reminder that day
and freedom await, but the sun
remains outside, knowing its place.
We wandered the desert for 40 years
but there we had freedom of movement,
endless space in the parching sun.
Sitting on the plane, quietly begging
for a landing and the crush of bodies
moving through the airport, you long
to see her pull off the shirt and jeans,
to see her standing, stretching in the pink
panties, to mix lust and love and sweat,
to hold her in the frantic dance of orgasm,
but none of that is possible from seat 34-C
United Flight 882 en route to Chicago.
We stood in the cattle cars, pressed
so tightly that movement occurred
only in waves, surprised that they
would treat laborers in such a fashion,
but dreading the alternative, it offered
constant provision of your papers
to the smug young men who knew so little
of the world, save for the gray wool
of the uniforms, the twin lightning bolts
screwed into their lapels, their cruelty
not only expected but ordered.
When we saw the smoke rising from the ovens
we knew, but preferred to deny the truth
as surely as the cordwood knows that it
is destined for the fire, soon to be ashes.
She is likely waking now, stepping from the shower
her skin lightly red from the back scrubber
and the towel rubbed across her thighs.
We stood on the deck of the old freighter,
many of us pressed tightly against the rail
and saw the old seaport baking in the sun,
a land we were certain was promised us
but they turned us back though several drowned
swimming for her shores, death preferable
to return to a place of nothingness, a void.
Six hours out of Tokyo, teeming with people
like the lower East Side on Shabbat morning,
you want to see open spaces, to find some sort
of freedom and our slavery is barely
a bitter memory, saved for prayer.
First Appeared in Footwork: Paterson Literary Review, Vol. 24-25, 1998.