Late Afternoon Storm
Suddenly, without warning, the dogwood
throws off its blossoms. The petals flare
and twitch in the weak storm light.
My son rounds first base, a stricken maple tree
at the edge of the yard. Laughing,
head twisted back, he sprints past the juniper bushes.
Despite myself, I am gaining on him.
Walk, he screams, walk Daddy,
but I do not listen. My hand is cocked,
squeezing the whiffle ball.
The dogwood petals fall between us
and stick to his lank sweat-soaked hair.
As I round the bushes, out of breath,
I see myself at his age, crew-cut,
lean and sober. I watch the back
of my own lungs push against
a white T-shirt. A fear-knot gathers
in my side like the one
that grew there in high-school
when I ran long distance.
I see myself again rounding the bare
tip of Thomson Island in the race
against the sunken-cheeked
reform school boys. Once more, glowing
with privation, I press into
the strong harbor wind. All around me
the thorn bushes double over
as if they too were gasping
for breath, as if the fear-knot
had begun to tighten.
My ribcage swells; a fern of sweat
broadens along my son’s spine. I stretch
to touch it and he zig-zags away,
with one eye on my other hand,
still poised. Walk, he screams again
as he lunges for the base
of the tree. But it is too late.
Nothing can protect him.
The whiffle ball swerves toward
his ankle. The petals accumulate;
they blanket the grass.
Their somber perfume fills the whole yard.