Rita Dove

The Sahara Bus Trip

I. Departure
Roofless houses, cartons of chalk,
catch the sky in their mirrors of air.
Intake of breath. Crisp
trees hung with sour oranges.
Hunched in the unnatural light, you wait
for the driver to start this bus forward.
Dust scatters in the pus-filled eyes
of children running after us, waving.
How small they are! They are getting smaller.

II. The Discovery of Oranges
At night they quiver imperceptibly until
the leaves rustle; their perforated skins
give off a faint heat.
Only the Arab knows the heart of the orange:
she tears herself apart to give us relief.
We spend 200 milliemes for a bag of oranges
so sweet our tongues lie dreaming in the juice.

III. The Salt Sea
If, at the end of the Atlantic,
Columbus had found only an absence of water,
this English tourist would have been there
to capture that void with a wide-angle lens.
Here, the wind blows from nowhere to nowhere
across a plain transformed by salt
into a vision of light. One bug,
black and white, dusted with salt, crawls
among orange peels that flare up like
brittle flowers. You could not live here,
he says. It is not so astonishing,
close your mouths.

IV. The Discovery of Sandroses
Each inconsolable thought sprouts
a tear of salt which blossoms,
sharpens into a razored petal.
Now we have a bouquet of stone roses.
The bedouins are hawking the new miracle,
600 milliemes, a few francs!
You buy me a large one.
By the roadside, the boys pose with foxes —
those diseased bastard eyes, those crumbling smiles.

V. Hotel Nefta
We disembark, the bus wheezing
like a punctured furnace.
The Englishman has set his tripod up
and is shooting the green interference of palms.
It is tricky light. Tomorrow the trip back,
our fingers exhaling small, tangy breaths.
What a light-hearted whistle you have!
It reminds me of water — so far-away,
so clear, it must come from the sky.