On the shore near the oyster beds
I lie as flat as possible.
A hundred feet further inland
neighbors flop sandbags the size
of watermelons, shaping a wall
to protect the processing plant
and the tiny frame houses clustered
about it. The sky whirlpools in corpse
tinted hues. The hurricane
loiters twenty miles offshore.
Shrimp, oysters, clams and prawns cower
as the pressure drops. The sandbaggers
curse so crudely the air curdles.
They want me to help them wall out
the threat, but my body will break
the force of the water and save
my soul, if not the local
seafood industry. The wind
picks up, howling like a dog pack.
I lie even flatter, pretending
I’m empty as a clamshell. A cry
from beyond the seawall. It’s coming.
I lift my head enough to read
the line of gray water scrawled
along the horizon. It grumbles
like an organ being tuned. The sand
quakes beneath me. I roll over,
bury my face. The water blasts
right over me, a crushing embrace,
and I drown so completely
I’m convinced I’ve never lived.
The water has become the world
and I’m part of it. Yet it recedes
as abruptly as it arrived;
and I rise and find the sandbags
have held, the packing plant standing,
the oysters cheering in their beds;
and I don’t have to number myself,
unless I want to, among the dead.
Abigail’s slump continues.
Dangling a monkey in a cage
above her bed didn’t cheer her
but frightened away her boyfriend,
whose snoring had shocked the neighbors
and whose beard had scratched Abigail
so badly she had to apply
pancake batter to her wounds.
Now the monkey runs loose, dropping
prune-sized pellets wherever
he pleases. Abigail sighs
in her rocker and reads books
in faux-leather bindings sent
by the Reader’s Digest Book Club
and cries because stories of grit
and determination don’t apply.
Her father wants to roast the monkey,
but he wanted to shoot and cook
Abigail’s boyfriend as well,
being hardly a gourmet.
The whole village feels burdened
by Abigail’s slump. To brighten
her life the selectmen declare
“Abigail Days,” and sponsor
a carnival, a puppet show,
a drawing for a red Ford pickup.
On the green the townsfolk applaud
and pat Abigail’s broad back.
She rides the carnival rides
and buys a book of tickets,
hoping to win the big diesel truck.
At dusk the volunteer firefighters
ignite a bonfire and burn the last
local Democrat at a stake
while at home her monkey snarls and flings
blobs of monkey-dung. The night-wind
wheezes, and a sneer of airplanes
slits the comprehensive sky.