On The Bus from Cleveland
We were halfway to New York, gummy
with failed sleep, somewhere in Ohio,
a dreary little evening town, when the door
wheezed open and the khaki uniforms came in,
dull-eyed, poking down the aisle stern and stone-faced,
the rifle bearers glaring over our heads.
Immigration, someone murmured.
We hunched in our seats, tried to look
as “American” as possible.
Even with my Bronx accent, I felt the chill.
It was like that afternoon in South Africa,
our bus leaving the safari park
when the solemn dark men stepped out
onto the empty road and our driver said quietly,
Don’t argue, don’t refuse, look respectful.
Talk quietly so they’ll hear your accents.
We hushed as they pushed their way down the aisle,
narrow for the guns, then ordered us off, the baggage
bins opened. Our one Black couple was ordered
to open their passports.
Sure enough, it wasn’t until the men heard Kentucky
in their voices that suddenly they were gone,
and our driver motioned us quickly back on the bus
and pulled out, lest they have a second thought.
In Ohio, no words were spoken
and we were not ordered off the bus.
The hush lasted long after the guns left
and we moved once again onto the American highway.
originally published in Evening Street Review Number 17 Autumn 2017