A CHANGE OF SKY
— James McKee
caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt
(to travel across the sea bring a change of sky, not of soul)
Bystander-slack, all aplomb and delicious exemption,
I’m a benchful of pricey sprawl outside the kibbutz hotel,
awaiting the bus to Masada, made capital-g glorious by mass suicide in 73 CE.
Far down a slope of drone-prowled sand scabbed with outcrops, a sea—
yes, the Dead one—
flares back at the sky like a sheet of pitted steel.
Turns out I like my vistas cleansed enough for, say,
phylacteried zealots and phalanxed legionaries to suffer just as superbly
as a good-kitschy network miniseries, circa 1980, could imagine them.
It’s simpler that way, like not listening.
Meantime, shadows creep like wet ink beneath olive-drab scrub
while a hot hush, as between blows,
clots in the burdened air.
All at once I un-slump: across the road stands an ibex, too real to be random,
horns like flourished sabers, outthrust pharaoh’s beard, hoofs of battered onyx.
It surveys the façade, side-eyes me curtly, then clops over the hot frontier—
if a driveway counts as a frontier—
and in among pool-blockading and palm-surveilled bungalows, planted
where olive trees and flocks of sheep once belonged
to people who don’t belong here anymore.
I look around: no one to witness it step through that rent in the probable
which has, just like that,
zipped shut behind its quickening trot.
Whatever it is I feel stands me up, God damn it,
fierce as a prophet for a good scourging by some truths:
mass immiseration, a carceral shadow-state,
dark-age atavisms thickly nacred in digital frivolity,
the whole hypertrophied apparatus of a wartime imperium
still lubricated by its founding crimes, but soon—
I hear the heave and grind of my bus lurching up the switchbacks.
Any minute now, the doors will open with a hiss and a clunk,
a gush of air conditioning and Mid-Atlantic English will blur the desert glare,
and in a candy-hued touchscreen glow that soothes like home
I’ll sit where the look no one gives me proves I still belong.