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.
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.
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.