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Theresa Whitehill

Life On Mars
Bashkiria, Mediterranean Sea, Valentine’s Day 1984


We were in no country
on this earth, under the influence
of Venus and Mars, surrounded
by water and battleships.

Valentine’s Day, 1984. Andropov’s funeral. Russian speeches
over the public address system of the Bashkiria, a Russian
passenger boat out of Odessa, on her way to Egypt. Withdrawal
of Italian and American soldiers from Beirut; aftermath of the PLO
evacuation. Occasionally an American sub would surface next to us
and keep pace for awhile before sinking into all that luminance.

The Russian crew would come to us and joke,
“ Hold up your passports! Show them you’re American.”
I stood at the railing practicing phrases of Russian
courtesy, and the Babylonian word to represent water
which originally meant “voice” or “loud cry.”

We went ashore at Latakia, while Russian teachers
were disembarked, and walked to a cafe in the
town square. The tea was ordered in a language
I did not understand, but when it arrived, the hot fragrant
steam soothed me and I knew the heat, and could decipher
the dust under my foot, and recognized the eyes that stared
at us. They were staring at Mars. And God said to Mohammed,
“ we have made of water everything living.”

And one night off the shore of Cyprus, we drank a brandy
made from honey and tangerines, and a young Nubian man
stood up with wet eyes and danced a tsifteteli
that stopped the boat in the water, spread a net
of quiet over the Mediterranean, and, as we watched,
he moved his hips to one side and cut the tension
of a terrible reality, and we felt the woven texture
of the water underneath undulate us. Therefore, I understood
the rust in the belly of the ship, and the sharp stars.
He was taking us home. We were in no
country on this earth, under the influence
of Mars and Venus, surrounded by battleships
and water.


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