Summer of Catastrophe

Homes so cozy the walledness of them, the roofedness, creating inside, creating privacy, creating spaces to express our personalities, creating color schemes, creating places to dust, creating finds from our pasts, discoveries for our children to make. Dwellings that envelop us, separating us from the universe, helping us window-scan the not-us, situating sky, clouds, streets, trees, lawns, people…

We could try looking at them as if from outer space. Or, at least as though in some future history: walls cracked like eggs and devoured by 500 year Godzilla floods, sliding downstream, buried in mud, churned up, earthquaked, blown apart by hurricanes, felled like mountains of trees by erupting volcanoes, burnt down to chimney bricks.

But we can’t even decide what we’d grab from the hypothetical list that never actualizes into a suitcase by the door because that suitcase would invite disaster, and—filled with doppelgangers—flummox our routines, mushrooming until it burst its seams. And because what we really want to take is the flush of morning sun on our bedroom walls, evening lamplight gentled over our books at the center of the surrounding dark, headlights wheeling over our ceilings.

We know, if given minutes, we’d run from room to room blubbering with indecision. Our papers in the stumble-heavy fire box—or would it outlast the present catastrophe? these boots good for walking on glass or lava or ash? the three shelves of photo scrapbooks, or the external hard drives we never finished putting the photos on?  flash drives? or the whole PC?

When we’re quiet dust in urns at the back of their closets, awaiting scattering, our far-away, too busy children will pay for the clearance agent to disappear all the contents of our houses—selling what can be sold, trashing diaries, photographs, most of the old books. But Nature, more thorough, and angry at us, could take the whole house, and the division, and the town, smashing to atoms our lovely illusory solidity—while we still live.

Trickle of Pink on a White Blouse

Suspended above the digital hum of a late summer evening
at home in my quiet town, as I get my tea: the rare tune
of an ice cream van, somewhere—

bringing back the white Good Humor truck, clean as the 50s,
sing-songing down my city block—making us kids drop
our games of jacks or hop-scotch, and run to beg the hygienically
uniformed driver to wait, while we take the stairs two at a time
to our apartments—

bringing back mother, in house-dress and babushka, rising
from scrubbing the linoleum with ammonia, wiping her hands
on a clean rag, mopping the sweat off my brow with her palm,
saying “Ask nicely!”  before handing over the nickels and dimes,
her own mouth never watering for a bar or cone.

But now, as my tea steeps, she flashes before me, ankles turned girlish
in summer sandals, crossing her dangling legs at Addie Vallins,
near the shuddering El raining shafts of light and dust, where my father,
home from the factory, is “treating” us a leap of time ago—
before I can spell aadeevallinz, before I can clamber
onto the high stools myself. “A hot fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream
and burnt almonds,” she says, eyes glittering.

Burnt almonds,” not “toasted,” I think for the first time, as I reach
for the sugar bowl on my kitchen table—because the sugared kind
was Gebrannte Mandeln in the German of her childhood in Vienna!

And now she plucks the maraschino cherry by its stem, sucks out the juice,
bites down and crushes it, ignoring the trickle of pink on her white blouse.
And now she slides her long spoon into the tulip dish moist with condensation—
Oh Memory, you unlocked cabinet of amazements!—
bringing faintly chewy still-warm fudge, cool silk slip of vanilla,
cloud-froth of Chantilly cream lighter than both, crisp little almond slivers,
all to her mouth.

Our eyes close as she swallows.