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Alan Soldofsky

Three Poems

On Notice

This time of year, the wind speeds up

and sweeps wildly down from the ridges.

So, they're shutting the power off.

It's time to see what I've kept in

case of an emergency. There might be

cans of crushed food in the basement

or spring water expiring inside plastic bottles.

And perhaps some waxed fruit, though

that could be hard to swallow.

After the streetlights go out, I'll pry open

my garage doors, the way thieves do,

and hunt around with my flashlight

for what's left over in cardboard boxes

from last week's dinner party. I just

don't want to find mice corpses

the cat has left behind the broken-legged

ottoman, with its ripped upholstery,

or anything else moldering on

the spider webbed shelves where we've stashed

old jig saw puzzles and the MRE's

we purchased at the surplus store in case

of an earthquake. We're told to plan ahead,

to know where we would meet up if we got separated,

if our little piece of the planet burned,

and how we'd survive at least a week

without the grid working, after we used

everything on hand that could be salvaged,

with the chicken spoiling in the refrigerator,

and the last bags of ice melting in the coolers

And we're just too goddamned past it to move.

Brace for Impact

The lights are out as we circle the airport,

except for one narrow slot overhead.

We are strapped in. We haven't slept, many

of us have stopped talking, but some of us

can't stop talking. We've heard the

safety instructions and are trying hard

to remember what we need do to first.

We are not ready to panic, though we

might be on a collision course with

blindness, rising up beneath the wings.

The lid is off. We've swooped into a

stiff headwind and bounced around the sky.

You feel the pressure building up. From the

middle seat you get a glimpse of gouged hills,

charred shrubbery, dry canyons crisscrossing

on the back slope. It hurts to breathe so much

recycled air. We're circling the ground.

But here's the thing, why not say what

really happened no matter how weird it sounds.

There's no Wi-Fi connection. The air's

too rough. To ride out this turbulence it's

best to be silent, chew gum, or droop down

your head. Breathe now or forever hold

your breath. We're not allowed to move about

the cabin. Despite the hardship of dusk,

the grid below is diaphanous. The

captain's voice comes over the intercom.

You can't talk back. He says more weather's coming

over Camelback, but we're in line to land.

He says there's nothing really to worry.

about. The cockpit's eye is damage proof.

In a poem there should be something hidden.

A poet thinks in metaphor. But when

the engines begin to shudder, this is fear

not in syllables. This is the thing

itself. A tremble in the metal, then

we drop and are blown sideways as the clouds

drift up, shreds of gray in the gathering

dark that we bump up and down in, riding

the wind's spine like at a carnival. (Don't

let me throw up on the seat in front

of me.) The flight attendants clutch their seats.

You're not sure if you believe at the end

the low will be brought high and the high be

brought low. But for now all you can do is be

sure your tray table's put back and your seat

is in the upright position. We bounce

two times when we hit the tarmac. We're all

over the place. Everyone's yelling as

we lunge down the runway. The next few years

you'll have to talk, a mask over your face.

Flare Up

Something's burning behind the house you say

dragging the words out from deep in your mouth.

There's a glow in the tops of the oaks

that stud the hills with their gnarled chains.

You learned how to move without thinking

when it smells like lightning has seared its black,

initials around a gash in the bark

of the Douglas fir behind our house,

When you run to the bathroom in the night

it feels like the floor's sunk one foot. Not enough

water pressure, the leaking sink with its

rust-stained faucet oozing a worm's trail

on the porcelain. What item from your history

will you retrieve as you rush into your clothes,

while night plunges its singed needles

into your neck? Why is it what you want

most is the very thing that you have lost?

You can't even find your breath, heavy with

a grist of soot and carbon. You can expect

every mistake leads to something worse.

How do you decide what to save as the heat

edges closer, sparks flying over the road,

cinders setting the air ablaze. Your face lined

with creosote. What's valuable enough to take?

You cover your mouth, but find no sanctuary

from the ashes that land on your car, that cling

to your hands as you pack your belongings.

You hear it now, the crackling that replaces

birdsong. A dazzling tempest of fire

bears down everywhere and arrives

with a whoosh. You have to leave now, you say

to yourself. Leave. Leave these words for the flames.

Alan Soldofsky's most recent collection of poems is In the Buddha Factory. With David Koehn, he is coeditor of Compendium: A Collection of Thoughts About Prosody, by Donald Justice. Soldofsky's poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times. He has published poems and critical essays in numerous magazines and journals, including Catamaran, The Gettysburg Review, Gigantic Sequins, The L.A. Review of Books, Poem-a-Day, (Academy of American Poets), Vox Populi, and The William Carlos Williams Review. His work included in California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology. His interview with Juan Felipe Herrera (U.S. Poet Laureate 2015-2017) appeared MELUS Journal, Summer 2018. A former contributing editor to Poetry Flash, he directs the MFA Creative Writing program at San Jose State University.

— posted SEPTEMBER 2021

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