Late Afternoon Storm
Steven Tarlow

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.

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