South Wichita Safeway
The first time my mother left me
Mount St. Helens exploded.
She crowded around a little grey radio
at the checkout, a milk bottle sweating
against her ribs, the butcher behind her
towing a cloud of Camel smoke,
beef fumes. She listened
while a reporter barked about lahars
and pyroclastic flows, blast magnitudes
and missing mountain men, his voice
bearded with static. The eruption scalped
its peak, the whole north rockface, an island
almost, shook out into the sky, bears and all.
She sighed and gasped, overwhelmed
by secondhand atrocity. She tried to imagine
a million trees snapped, blown sideways
in a sharp second, tried not to wait
for that avalanche to rush the city limits
and uproot every church, strip club
and slaughterhouse she knew.
How exciting it all was for a day,
how mildly disappointing when, by next
morning, the mountain’s headwind of ash
had drifted only as far east as Boise
and Edmonton, heaped quietly on green
leaves, windowsills and woolen vagrants,
only a mid-May snowfall, just
another kind of winter.
First Published in Tupelo Quarterly 8