Fall 2017 / Poetry 2017 / Volume 48

Scanning the Black Sky–Virginia Chase Sutton

terrifying in its beauty—details obscured—

the thick odor of rain lifts its fat and full

face. Tornado’s coming my father says

 

this afternoon. The fire department about a mile

away sounds its haunting groan at the all-volunteer

depot. Who pressed the button, who is there

 

to get the weather report? I’m eleven, my dress

whipping with the wind, finally wedged in the V

at the top of my legs. We should be inside the house

 

with my mother and sister, panic and intense fear

driving them to the small hall outside my basement

bedroom. It’s the only almost-safe place inside our

 

split-level rental. Windows are everywhere, in

every room, facing all directions. My father sniffs

the air. Even the dog has gone indoors. There

 

aren’t any other men out on the street, surveying

the clouds as they gather around my ankles. I want

to save him, to urge him to the basement, to shelter.

 

He has nothing to say to me. I stand on the dirty

driveway. It’s June and storms rise quickly

here in the suburbs. A ghost figure passes by,

 

leaving me alone as hail begins its hot peppering

against the softness of my body. Why doesn’t

he want me, why doesn’t he save me? The wailing

 

siren continues. Take cover, take cover I’m thinking.

I don’t want to leave my father alone. Wind rises

even higher, to my waist and the deluge begins.

 

Soaked, bedraggled, I walk slowly to the house

counting lightning strikes as I go. I’m almost always

alone, unless my father is with me, holding me,

 

reaching for my mouth. But he has left without me.

Downstairs he’ll find my mother is drunk and my little

sister is crying. I love the gray smoke coloring my skin

 

but I’m afraid now. I lift one foot, then the other. Through

the mist, I see my father’s hand grabbing for me.

What the hell are you doing outside he shouts. I want

 

to say to be alone with you, our adventure. But

he pulls me out of the sky’s falling envelope, pushes me

down the stairs. And we wait, the four of us, like an ordinary

 

family with a big dog. The siren’s still on high alert,

winds shift, o, the moaning through glass, watching bits

of lilac bushes skim by. Everything sounds very far away.

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