Jeremy Griffin

Storm, September 2018


The dog doesn’t flinch

against the fists of rain.

It’s a brindle-colored cur


skulking across the flooded lot

outside the convenience store

where my wife and infant son


and I have stopped for gas,

only to find the doors chained

to ward off looters lured out


by the tropical storm.

Every forecast is a myth,

I’m learning, a way to stifle


the anarchy of chance,

just like my son is learning

to smile in his juice-stained car seat,


the world all soothing hands

and pastels of laughter, a place

where even the most ravenous


of needs can be coaxed

back to sleep. This is the loneliness

I can never show him: the dog


loping along, head hung

like a hammerless bell, an amalgam

of bone knots and unanswered wants,


sniffing amidst the cigarette butts

and shards of bottles tossed out

of car windows like curses


we can never reclaim once

they’ve been fired from our lips.

Soon the winds will drive the animal


away, out into the boggy fields

where the land dips out of view.

We’ll watch the trees bow


like traps yet to be sprung,

and I’ll touch my son’s fleshy foot

and assure him it won’t be long

before the rains submit to the sun.




Pulse


After my wife fell at the gas station,

the nurses attached a monitor

to the swollen dome of her belly

so we could hear my son’s heartbeat

to know he was unharmed. All night

we listened to the staticky pulse,

like the thumping beneath

the floorboards of my first apartment

when the forty-something stoner below

would fall asleep with his stereo cranked,

Elton John or the Grateful Dead

reassuring me there was always more

than the unsung pleas of the future.

I felt the music in the cockled corners

of my head. My wife dozed

sitting up in bed, like a hunter

waiting for her field of vision to be filled

by her next meal. What is an ending

if not to be consumed? Everyone praying

for waters to part, for the earth

to move. Another sentence

to commute. Listen to your unborn

child’s heart singing through a speaker

at 3 AM and you’ll know

desperation’s contours, the name of every storm.

In the morning, the sun sliced

across the room, but we wanted the dark

to hold us to its chest like a bouquet.




Intervention


Your neighbor having a heart attack

in his front yard. The droopy-cheeked old man

in unseasonable flannel and jeans

faded white at the knees, his face

subterranean sallow, weedeater rumbling

on the ground beside his hitching body.

You, standing over him like a streetlight

casting great shards of shadows

across a road you’ve never traveled anywhere

but home. Mercy learning its own name.

The grackles on the wires overhead, swooping away.

Yes you, eight, too young to have tasted death

on your gums, to know that time repays the body

in bloated cells and wind. The action figure

you were playing with moments earlier,

a soldier with muscles like the cagey loops

of tree roots, now limp in your fist. Your hands

opening like magnolia blossoms. Now your mother

darting from the house when you fly inside

to sputter the news, the neighbor beneath

the birdless wires, the sour cough of the weedeater.

Soon, an ambulance howling. Disrobed world.

The indifference of blood valves and bone, encroaching

night with its blistered moon. So much light

to disguise. Where does it go when it leaves us?

Here’s the thing: it never does.


 

Jeremy Griffin is the author of the short fiction collections A Last Resort for Desperate People: Stories and a Novella, from SFAU Press, and Oceanography, winner of the 2018 Orison Books Fiction Prize. His work has appeared in such journals as the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Indiana Review, Oxford American, and Shenandoah, among others. He has received support from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and teaches at Coastal Carolina University, where he serves as faculty fiction editor of Waccamaw: A Journal of Contemporary Literature.