Two Jews, Truck Stop, Syrian Mountains
by Rafaella Del Bourgo
Snow like powdered sugar on tree-tops,
on the twisting road.
Our truck driver brakes at a long mud hut. Beckons
to follow him inside.
An older man and woman welcome him,
cut their eyes in our direction.
We are seated on cushions at a low table.
The three talk. Joe and I shiver with cold.
Other drivers arrive,
including one who looks like the actor Robert Mitchum.
He speaks a little English. Grins.
Your earrings are gold, yes?
We all sip tea.
The woman squats, cooks over a low stove,
little needles of heat,
the men in lively conversation.
Robert Mitchum steals a glance at us.
says, You are going through Jordan to Israel, yes?
His words, stones in the mouth.
Comfort food arrives at the table:
rice, flat bread, meat stew.
We do not ask what meat
but, somehow, it all smells like home.
I reach out with my left hand
and our driver slaps it.
Like an ignorant child,
I’ve done something wrong.
He fixes my plate the “proper” way,
shows me I should use my right hand.
More tea; the woman stokes the fire,
serves small pastries
stuffed with pistachios and honey.
Joe and I are ready to leave.
Robert Mitchum says, We sleep.
In a corner of the room,
the couple rolls out animal skins.
I lie down close against the wall, then Joe,
then our driver, Robert Mitchum,
the dozen other drivers.
More skins are laid on top of us.
We’re no longer cold but Joe complains
the covers are too heavy.
I’m going to be raped,
I tell Joe.
I know, he says. And I’ll be murdered.
Stabbed, probably, I say.
Yes, Joe agrees. Stabbed.
I start to laugh. Joe laughs.
Our truck driver and Robert Mitchum laugh.
It ripples down the communal bed,
all of us laughing and laughing.
Finally, our truck driver scolds us
and Robert Mitchum says, Sleep.
Silence cloaks the room.
Outside the small window,
cedars tremble in the wind,
release their burden of snow.
PHOTO: Mount Hermon, Syria. Photo by Borlili, used by permission.
NOTE: Mount Hermon is a mountain cluster constituting the southern end of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Its summit straddles the border between Syria and Lebanon and, at 9,232 feet above sea level, is the highest point in Syria.
NOTE: Syria is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups. Read more about Syria’s complex history here.
PHOTO: Map showing Syria’s borders with some of the 18 countries in the Middle East. (©2009 Encyclopedia Brittanica)
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1966 and working as the Assistant Regional Buyer for Ladies Lingerie and Loungewear at Sears Roebuck in downtown L.A., I traveled to Europe and then spent nine months in the Middle East with various people I met. I encountered Joe on New Year’s Eve on a boat from Brindisi to Athens. He was a wonderful traveling companion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rafaella Del Bourgo’s writing has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Nimrod, and The Bitter Oleander. She has won many awards including the League of Minnesota Poets Prize in 2009. In 2010, she won the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award. She was also the 2010 winner of the Grandmother Earth Poetry Award. In 2012 she won the Paumanok Poetry Award. In 2013 she was the recipient of the Northern Colorado Writers first prize for poetry and in 2014, the New Millennium Prize for Poetry. In 2017 she won the Mudfish Poetry Prize and was nominated for the third time for a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild was published by Finishing Line Press. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and cat.