This time of year, the wind speeds up
and sweeps wildly down from the ridges.
So, they're shutting the power off.
It's time to see what I've kept in
case of an emergency. There might be
cans of crushed food in the basement
or spring water expiring inside plastic bottles.
And perhaps some waxed fruit, though
that could be hard to swallow.
After the streetlights go out, I'll pry open
my garage doors, the way thieves do,
and hunt around with my flashlight
for what's left over in cardboard boxes
from last week's dinner party. I just
don't want to find mice corpses
the cat has left behind the broken-legged
ottoman, with its ripped upholstery,
or anything else moldering on
the spider webbed shelves where we've stashed
old jig saw puzzles and the MRE's
we purchased at the surplus store in case
of an earthquake. We're told to plan ahead,
to know where we would meet up if we got separated,
if our little piece of the planet burned,
and how we'd survive at least a week
without the grid working, after we used
everything on hand that could be salvaged,
with the chicken spoiling in the refrigerator,
and the last bags of ice melting in the coolers
And we're just too goddamned past it to move.
Brace for Impact
The lights are out as we circle the airport,
except for one narrow slot overhead.
We are strapped in. We haven't slept, many
of us have stopped talking, but some of us
can't stop talking. We've heard the
safety instructions and are trying hard
to remember what we need do to first.
We are not ready to panic, though we
might be on a collision course with
blindness, rising up beneath the wings.
The lid is off. We've swooped into a
stiff headwind and bounced around the sky.
You feel the pressure building up. From the
middle seat you get a glimpse of gouged hills,
charred shrubbery, dry canyons crisscrossing
on the back slope. It hurts to breathe so much
recycled air. We're circling the ground.
But here's the thing, why not say what
really happened no matter how weird it sounds.
There's no Wi-Fi connection. The air's
too rough. To ride out this turbulence it's
best to be silent, chew gum, or droop down
your head. Breathe now or forever hold
your breath. We're not allowed to move about
the cabin. Despite the hardship of dusk,
the grid below is diaphanous. The
captain's voice comes over the intercom.
You can't talk back. He says more weather's coming
over Camelback, but we're in line to land.
He says there's nothing really to worry.
about. The cockpit's eye is damage proof.
In a poem there should be something hidden.
A poet thinks in metaphor. But when
the engines begin to shudder, this is fear
not in syllables. This is the thing
itself. A tremble in the metal, then
we drop and are blown sideways as the clouds
drift up, shreds of gray in the gathering
dark that we bump up and down in, riding
the wind's spine like at a carnival. (Don't
let me throw up on the seat in front
of me.) The flight attendants clutch their seats.
You're not sure if you believe at the end
the low will be brought high and the high be
brought low. But for now all you can do is be
sure your tray table's put back and your seat
is in the upright position. We bounce
two times when we hit the tarmac. We're all
over the place. Everyone's yelling as
we lunge down the runway. The next few years
you'll have to talk, a mask over your face.
Something's burning behind the house you say
dragging the words out from deep in your mouth.
There's a glow in the tops of the oaks
that stud the hills with their gnarled chains.
You learned how to move without thinking
when it smells like lightning has seared its black,
initials around a gash in the bark
of the Douglas fir behind our house,
When you run to the bathroom in the night
it feels like the floor's sunk one foot. Not enough
water pressure, the leaking sink with its
rust-stained faucet oozing a worm's trail
on the porcelain. What item from your history
will you retrieve as you rush into your clothes,
while night plunges its singed needles
into your neck? Why is it what you want
most is the very thing that you have lost?
You can't even find your breath, heavy with
a grist of soot and carbon. You can expect
every mistake leads to something worse.
How do you decide what to save as the heat
edges closer, sparks flying over the road,
cinders setting the air ablaze. Your face lined
with creosote. What's valuable enough to take?
You cover your mouth, but find no sanctuary
from the ashes that land on your car, that cling
to your hands as you pack your belongings.
You hear it now, the crackling that replaces
birdsong. A dazzling tempest of fire
bears down everywhere and arrives
with a whoosh. You have to leave now, you say
to yourself. Leave. Leave these words for the flames.
Alan Soldofsky's most recent collection of poems is In the Buddha Factory. With David Koehn, he is coeditor of Compendium: A Collection of Thoughts About Prosody, by Donald Justice. Soldofsky's poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times. He has published poems and critical essays in numerous magazines and journals, including Catamaran, The Gettysburg Review, Gigantic Sequins, The L.A. Review of Books, Poem-a-Day, (Academy of American Poets), Vox Populi, and The William Carlos Williams Review. His work included in California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology. His interview with Juan Felipe Herrera (U.S. Poet Laureate 2015-2017) appeared MELUS Journal, Summer 2018. A former contributing editor to Poetry Flash, he directs the MFA Creative Writing program at San Jose State University.