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


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