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Unsettled as leaves in this rising wind,
with few words to offer my love––
who had dreamed of the wheeling sky, of this tumult
gathering for attack,
a livid shadow over our ridgeboard;
and who surfaced from sleep, breathless and half-blind––
I watch sidelong the soft glare from a pair of headlights
drift across walls above our bed.
Now persuaded to her inmost wounds she had died years before,
she asks me to confirm with a nod, that we
never will end up cornered by death. Vaguely, my hand reaches
to stroke her back to sleep.
The wonder is, how anyone can reach those depths
despite forebodings swimming, volatile as the downpour under way
from Indianola to Bettendorf, despite blazing thunderheads
or shock-wave skies. (Hour after hour I have thrashed and
a stranger to how sleep came on nights long ago
when flashes caught fire over the yard;
and still I wince like that frozen child
who wanted to take to his heels for starters, who would sooner
have endured a hundred hours without light than heard it blasted
so near the rafters his bed pitched to the wall.)
The wonder is, between wound-up sheets,
that somehow I drop off and dream.
In my dream though the midnight is a river of cold,
I run out under dark trees spilling wind-shaken rain;
and I don’t know why, but it burns
through my shirt smeared with pulpy earth, through my skin
dissolving bit by bit,
and into hollows of breath and bone
till I run like a shudder, haphazard
through uplands, past long grasses
and branches bowed low;
till I glimpse over my shoulder a dim figure tearing toward me
and wake in mid-stride with a shout––
wind battling loose windows on our bedroom’s north side.
Beside me my love struggles up in her nightshirt
to wander far rooms,
a faint flashing throughout the hall behind her.
I drift, mulling over the mumble of runoff,
the long turning of syllables, a murmur
mounting down eaves;
I mull over my breath and barely catch
the faucet’s tinny squeal,
the click from a distant light switch.
Again our bed shifts; her head
takes cover under a pillow,
one hand finding my arm––
one reaching for what dream?
Tomorrow, will she see much more of this
than wind and a fitfully-lit sky,
the delirium and dread
and how they ebbed away? I wonder what instants,
what glimmers will drift back to me.
Once I climb down steps toward a life
headlong in the blur of everyday circuits,
tonight conceivably could look like a truth so old it will
only a wan light from those dripping woods
that had burst a time or two with shouts––
though just now I watched in vivid windows.
for Martha Rodgers and Mark Katzman
c2016 by Jeff Grinnell; originally published by Polis
RHYME EMBROIDERED ON A BIB
“It once was easy
to eat the world”
Knee-high Monkey huffed;
and chowder seas
were spoonfed––so I gulped!
“Now boxcar beef
sandals made in Duluth,
and African drums
serve fine for breakfast blues.
“But more of much
is not enough;
all is all I want.”
His belly had nursed
a worming fear
now inched up near the tongue.
his lunch to school
where Teacher shone, an apple
at First Bell
since thought fed pangs, like the devil.
Big Chew Monkey
had drilled him for years:
“Three R’s can land a fist;
make sure you’re always
and stomach no qualms--or unrest.”
as humble pie
Knee-high took in our plates.
Six nights and six
days blind he gorged,
yet on the seventh, spat:
“Now I sit me
down to eat
while others yawn and stretch;
if I should bite them
as they sleep,
Good God, just save your breath. . . .”
Yet untold young
still drift off, swayed
by savory calls, toward frontiers;
and fall in behind
his snapping flag
with ranks bound far afield.
for Conor and Josephine Maxwell
and for Fiona Johnson
by Jeff Grinnell, c2016