It had been a day when the geese
came up from the river and circled
like cows and wouldn’t be chased
to flight even by a child, when heat
hung heavy over the zoo–the cats
stayed in their cages, the monkeys
hunkered into the shade of artificial
trees, and the creatures of the plain
were brought to their knees. My
daughter, bored by their inactivity,
flung fish food into the koi pond
to watch the water explode.
A leaden breeze rose and the tulips,
the lilies, the iris, the masses of spring
flowers nailed to their beds, strained
against their roots as if beckoning.
Then it appeared in the west, a sheer
granite face of cloud as monumental
as El Capitan and nearing us with
the deceptive speed of a battleship.
The sirens squawked, and from
the slit windows of the herpetarium
we watched a road grow penumbral,
then disappear into night, while in
the fleeing brilliance slow wide spirals
of debris rose like souls gathered
into Heaven–“Look at the leaves!”
she cried and the circling colors dipped.
You could almost hear music.
Then the rain–hard, loud, cruel.
The monitors slept, the two-headed
rattlesnake wound from side to side.
We ate hot dogs from a refugee cart
and watched the tulips beaten down
by forces they had invoked. In its
wake, my daughter shed her shoes
and danced in the rain, as if to say
how small a thing a storm can be.
We walked into a sunset glow at mid-
afternoon. Everything–trees, grass,
fence rails, sidewalks, cars in the lot–
had discovered some inner light.
Her leaves were roofing tiles, red
and grey, scattered over the lot
like leaflets. One had lodged
beneath my wiper. She claimed it
as she claimed dead bugs and bits
of gravel, souvenir of her passage.
On the radio, witnesses exulted:
a restaurant near the mall, flattened;
a Caravan belly up in a motel pool;
power lines sparking near a school.
The storm had skipped through the city
like a rock on a pond, scalping houses
as it went and came to us soundless,
invisible except for the tiles.
On the way home, we circumvented
downed trees, the roof of a garage;
nameless debris huddled against fences
like refugees; the road lay like a forest
path in spring half-hidden by windfall.
At our turn, men were sawing a huge
limb that had fallen on a parked car,
cupping it like a mittened hand.
The drain, dammed by leaves, had
created a tiny lake; the car seemed
to be sinking. A fireman reached
in, removed a chunk of window glass
and a purse. His hands were bloody.
He wiped them on a clump of leaves.
She had stopped to wait out the wind
as if it were an ambulance passing.
The police waved us into an alley,
and we went on. My daughter said,
“The woman’s dead, isn’t she?”
And I knew from that day on
when she saw leaves she’d see blood
and know that always in the midst
of such desperate beauty there is
tragedy: a littered street, a woman
by sheer chance trapped and dying,
a man who stares at his hands.
Taken from the book “In the Night Speaking” with permission from the author.