Route 38: Al Anbar to Ataraxia

By William Schuth

The wheel beneath me jolts up
I hear the crunch of the pavement below
Dear Christ, I think, I've had it.

A moment of weightlessness?
The pre-dawn street beyond the window
surges into a macabre dance

But the big diesel keeps roaring;
the turbos whistle a lullaby
of complacency as they spool;

we plod forward still.
Scanning again through the glass,
the horizon returns to horizontal

The driver coos back an apology—
she has cut the corner too short
nothing more, no IED this time.

Up front, a girl flips her blonde curls
and burbles a toddler's giggle
as she plays peekaboo with her dad

My hands unclench, trying to smooth the
jagged fresh wrinkles in the newspaper
back into my ashen knuckles

A schoolyard dozes beneath an
indigo predawn quilt, the grass
worn to dirt in the paths of a diamond

Houses drift past, dark except
where—here & there—a soft kitchen light
heralds the smell of brewing coffee

We near the dormant university,
I wobble to the door,
fear-vomit squishing in my boots.

In voice too cheerful for the hour
the driver calls out to my back
"Have a good one!"

and I say nothing


I say,
"I'll try."

Editor's note: This poem was initially published in issue #10 (2014). It was anthologized in Beyond the Hill (Lost Tower, 2017). Reproduced here with consent of William Schuth.