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.
The cat stares down from her new perch atop the living room bookcase. She watches us move about, wondering where she might be. She can tell we are getting increasingly frantic in our search as she is new here, and we are adapting to each other still. We look behind everywhere she might hide, but she is gone. She can tell we are getting ever more nervous. She lets out a whistle, drawing our attention, and seeing us see her, she nods, saying Here I am, foolish ones.
S: What are you doing, for heaven sake? H: Isn’t it obvious, I’m searching for Nirvana, for enlightenment. S: You silly fool, it’s right behind you! H: (turning suddenly) It is not, I would certainly see it. S: You might think so, but it is still right behind you! H: But why, tell me, can’t I see it? S: Because you’re looking for it always peering outward, but if you look inward behind your eyes, you won’t be able to miss it.