A CHANGE OF SKY
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.
James McKee enjoys failing in his dogged attempts to keep pace with the unrelenting cultural onslaught of late-imperial Gotham. His debut poetry collection, The Stargazers, is due out in 2020, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Acumen, New Ohio Review, The Raintown Review, Flyway, Saranac Review, The Comstock Review, THINK, The Midwest Quarterly, Xavier Review, and elsewhere. He spends his free time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help.
Kaitlyn Yates is currently in the Emergent Media program at CUNY Hunter. She is a 35 mm film photographer and darkroom printer. She lives in Queens, New York.