two poems

By John Schneider


Crossing Jordan from Amman through Karak to Wadi Rum
I snake over endless hills of silent gunpowder
spiraling up, twisting down molten macadam.
One-humped camels bob along the blue where sky meets sand.

My caravan of one passes Bedouin camps. Resting camels shield
their eyes with a third lid, nosing empty gas cans for a drink.
Time passes un-pursued while life shrinks from the merciless day.
In late August, you cannot stand outside even deep in afternoon shadows.

The heat seeps into boot soles, smolders into bones, boiling marrow.
White with stubble, my face ghosts with sweat.
Dried saliva seals my mouth. My mind sears with
half-forgotten picture-book images of

Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt,
Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan
by a man in goat hides eating locusts and wild honey.       
Cicadas burrow deep into sand where even faith cannot reach.

November 17, 1997

Ayman Told Me 

it was on his birthday:
six men laughing and singing,
posing as tourists at Luxor’s finest funerary temple  
shot the cashier and guards then opened fire.  
Bullets ricocheted off red-granite columns 
foreign families cowered, ran
slipping on spilled blood, hunted like dogs, 
the dead and dying mutilated for spite.
Others feigning death, crumpled
bodies like litter on limestone floors.

Sixty-three tourists. And the killers fled 
past checkpoints to a cave in the mountains.
That afternoon, their corpses lay in the city square,
dumped like garbage on the un-swept sandstone.  

Adults and children crying, jeering, 
spitting into their open mouths.
In the temple—silence.  
A single police car’s red light
flashing until dawn.

The Next Day 

Ayman Told Me
he went to the temple, rubbed his fingers 
over the cartouche peppered with holes, 
heard the bristles scrubbing death off the floor,
smelled the acrid air, sacrificial blood 
still staining the pink limestone. 

Witnessed a Coptic priest tossing holy water,
crossing himself, kissing a crucifix,
burning incense to release trapped spirits.
Overheard a Muslim cleric chanting from the Koran,
muttering verses to honor wandering souls.
Was blessed by two holy men crisscrossing grim paths

while unshaven guards leaned against columns,
yellow-stained fingers holding still smoldering cigarettes.

These poems are excerpts of longer works.

Photograph by Tutt art pittura scultura poesi a musica

For cell phone users, poems are best appreciated in landscape mode.