We never heard what my mate heard
descending to the Dead Sea by bus:
a jet fighter far below him
streaking north gomorrah and SDOM!
Our trip was nearly in peacetime.
I remember my surprise
at my first view of our goal,
not a white brine pan,
it twinkled cheerfully blue
like any sunny lake.
It wasn’t grey, or gelid.
I remember the stumps of pale
earth at the stop going down,
how I introduced the haughty
Russian lady to one: Mrs. Rein,
meet Mrs. Lot. The smile this got.
I recall us in our pallor
at the stand-offish kibbutz
on its narrow shelf of shore
past the Qumran scroll mines,
how they had fresh water
hoses afloat on the surface
to wash our mouths and eyes
if the clear Mars-gravity water
got into them, as we drifted
high as triremes. The appalling
caustic and razorblade bite of it.
I’d forgotten the black mud
under water, but the natron
stench returns, and nearly refreshes!
Thanks for that day, from back
when an orange cost one shekel.
— Les Murray