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Checkpoint

at the checkpoint made of tree

trunks and barrels filled with sand,

a group of pale bus riders standing

in a meandering line depends

on one man whose belly will

soon have his blouse buttons burst.

am I a Jew: a Muslim: a Catholic:

which one does he want to hate more:

will my name on the soiled piece

of paper confuse him or make him

pull me out by my shirt sleeve

as if I were a disposable part

of the human race, deemed perhaps

to be worthy of living or dying,

as my uncle used to say, by the look

of my penis: am I saved or doomed

if he suddenly remembers, or I do,

that we went to the same high school:

as I try to keep my sternomastoids

from twitching, my mind from being forced

to accept that someone who has no power

over life is a bigger coward than someone

who does, he positions himself before me,

his sourish breath becoming my breath:

Do you know if Maria’s still there:

his words burn on my face like ember:

there, meaning in the city: and I feel

cold sweat run down my spine: am I

done for if I say yes, or if I say no,

pretend I did or did not recognize him:

but he just grins and hands me

back my papers, moving to a young woman

next to me and motioning with his hand

for her to step out, still glancing at me,

while I rock back and forth, staring

past him, past my life, at the jagged line

of skeleton trees on the mountain ridge

where the dying daylight still lingers.

about the author

Mario Susko, a witness and survivor of the war in Bosnia, lives in the U.S. and teaches at Nassau Community College on Long Island. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from SUNY at Stony Brook in the ’70s and is the author of 22 books of poems. More recently his poems appeared in several British journals, The Interpreter’s House, Dream Catcher, magma poetry, The Ugly Tree, and the anthology In the Shadows, edited by H. Killingray; also in Nassau Review, Sonora Review, Wind, and 96 Inc. His poem, published and nominated by Dream Catcher, was short-listed for the 2004 Forward Poetry Prize in the best single poem category, and “Session in Progress,” published by The Paumanok Review (Summer 2004), was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His fourth book of poems in English, “Eternity on Hold,” will be released by Turtle Point Press in fall 2005.