by A.K. Drees
My mother as a child rode
through the aftermath of a tornado–
sheep driven through trees,
cows lying dead in the fields
bled dry by a thousand pieces of straw
turned into knives by the wind.
At the end of the drive was a great-aunt
crawling through rubble with
Christmas ribbon, trying to tie
tourniquets to save the lives
of her terriers, and a great-uncle
crushed to death by a refrigerator.
During storms, we would go down to the basement
with sleeping bags, candles, a transistor radio,
and sit in the southwest corner.
When my sister was still a pinch faced
squalling thing, there was a storm.
I grabbed my blanket, started toward the basement
My mother caught my arm
No, on the porch
We sat on the swing
my mother with a grizzling baby in her arms,
me with feet curled behind me.
Are you scared?
No. Are you?
Look, it’s just water
and it smells so good.
Nothing to be afraid of
a little rain,
a bit of lightning,
the roll of thunder.
We sit on the porch now.
We are brave.
I stretched out my hand
into the wet
and licked my palm.
II. Mercury Dropping
Winter wheat, glowing gold,
bends from the weight of the sky
that darkens and dips slowly toward the earth.
The horizon is a sharp black line
slitting the world through the blurry
veil of distant fields.
Deer step from a fence row,
hooves held high as they part the grass,
heads bending to bent heads of wheat.
We are going home,
truck windows open to catch the cool
at the front edge of the storm
Did you see the deer?
Yes. Her fawns are late. Look at her sides.
She’ll drop with the storm
I turn my head to see her
in the slipstream. She is still
but her side undulates–
a trick of light, maybe,
or not. Either way, she is gone
and the rain spatters the windshield.
He was standing by the grill
when the lightning struck
simultaneous to the thunder
making it hard to tell
if the light was hurting his ears
or the sound was paining his eyes
then came the rain
Pouring piss out of a boot out here.
Get me a coat.
The children rushed to comply,
bumbling through the coat closet.
Is this good for rain?
Whose coat is this?
then came the hail
Any coat, goddamn it.
I need to get to the grill
or nobody eats. Bring a plate—
a big one
then came the children
The coat was for the meat.
He was streaming cold rain all over the rug.
The dog licking the rivulets
running down his calves.
Saved the steak
then came the wife
Get your father a towel.
Take that meat into the kitchen.
A bath towel, not a dish towel.
Do you see the size of that puddle?
then came dinner
The click of hail against the windows
in time with the knives scratching plates.
Turn on a light, child.
We don’t live in a cave.
IV. Interruption in Service
It is the silence that startles me–
the absence of the fans, the air conditioner,
startling after the faint pop of the last surge.
The street light is out.
The whole neighborhood dark except for
the solar powered lights in the neighbor’s garden
When I was seven, I asked my father
about global thermonuclear war.
He took out a map, a saucer, and dinner plate.
He placed my finger on the map.
Here is where we live.
He moved my finger.
Here is the nuclear power plant.
He moved my hand away and put down the saucer.
Here is the circle where everything is vaporized.
It covered my grandparents’ house.
He removed the saucer and placed the plate,
paused, and adjusted it slightly.
Here is the circle where everything will burst into flame.
It covered our house.
It is better to die quickly than to suffer
from radiation sickness and nuclear winter.
When it happens, you will burn
before you know there was an explosion.
A flash of light and
(he made fists then splayed his fingers)
I nodded, tracing my finger along the edge
of the plate that held me
in the circle of easy death.
He said “when” not “if.”
When the street lights go out
I watch for cars, check my phone,
to be sure the flash is lightning.
Half of one inch from the edge
of that long broken plate,
my house rolls over in its sleep,
waiting for the clock on the stove
to blink midnight.
The window has been leaking,
tiny streams of water racing
from corner to floor,
dripping from the top
onto the sill
with no discernible pattern,
a torture of drips unexpected—
expected drops absent.
The problem is the flashing.
I think of lightning,
ambulances, police cars,
and dirty old men in overcoats
with suspendered socks.
He drones on about angles and sheeting,
metal and shingle,
wood and caulking,
poor workmanship and inevitable points of failure.
I’ll look at it when the rain stops.
I think of trout,
shiny and slippery
gutted and turned inside out,
with scales like raised wings
arching away from backbones.
They are lined,
slit mouths to splayed tails,
in the channels of our roof
the folds of our windows
sluicing water away.
The failure of flashing is
how the rain gets in.
A little bent tin, or aluminum,
a glop of tar and all will be well.
We simply have to wait
for the rain to stop.