Rochelle Mass

Hands on a Gun

The soldier has slipped onto my shoulder again, his breath skips
with the road. His head falls to my chest; I straighten,
tightening the part of my back that usually goes sore
on rides long as this. His knee hits mine, then flips
away as the bus rolls, returns to mine, stays there.
I feel his muscles.

Hills are drying in the June sun. Goats and two camels
pass on my side and dark children sell eggplants
from plastic crates. The soldier's head falls almost
into my arms; I lift his face. His hands stay on the gun,
a scar goes from the thumb up the arm. Swollen and red.

The bus makes a sharp turn. The low area between the hills
is filled with black tents; wide women herd sheep and children
to grass left after winter. The soldier has slipped again;
I lift his face, saliva runs on my hand, then I touch his hair.
The bus stops.

Three soldiers push duffel bags in. The last eats cherries,
spits out the stones. An old lady with parsley in her lap
shouts at him, the next stone rolls under her skirt. The bus
revs up, and my soldier shakes himself like a dog out of water.
Shalom, he says.

Shalom I say and feel the sweat each time
I raised his head. Where are we? he asks and leans over
to see more tents and goats. Almost there? and answers
long way yet.

I want to look straight at him but study his hands on the gun want to know if he's afraid. There's so much more I want to say
but you can't talk like that
to a man you hardly know.


I Only Know It Happened

Sometimes every detail stays. The shoulder, hip, the inside
of my thigh. Stays so clear as though you've mapped
the route. I feel the progress, how you go on and on, clear as
black and white, clearer because it flushed, sweated with
long breath and short gasps. But sometimes
like today I only know it happened. Light splashed.
I was flattened like Syrian bread, persistent, upturned.
Dissolved into myself. A jagged path this time, it began,
stopped. I stretched, fell back, tightened.
Planted into myself.

You placed me in time, took me out of it,
took time over. Colors moved beyond me.
Something rose - dropped
cracked, splintered.
I lie skinless, languish

cling. Emerge.
I only know that it happened.
Know it as a sky blackens
for winter rain
and tulips reach out of the garden.

Making a Garden

I want to add soil to the pot that stands on
one thick leg near the door holding a few
wet papers and cigarette stubs. Not nice
I say aloud, wanting to add ugly but I hold
my tongue and touch the spot where I'd put
a fat begonia yellow with sun, then petunias
and pansies along the side, a daliah and a zinnia
in the center.

Stop calls my daughter from the open window.

Just want to plant a few flowers I say shyly,
just want to weed, trim, cut a little out.

Stop she calls out again.
It's our yard - don't you know that?

I hear: It's our life!