By William James
In July of 1996, my family was involved in a large flash flood, which lead to the destruction of a large portion of our neighborhood, including our own home. Some 15 years later, I began to write poems about & influenced by that experience.
Deer Creek Rising
It begins with a hammering. A dull thwack
of fist against pine board. Cracking thunder.
Rain falling hard from the sky, pounding
rooftops with the sound of twinkling fire.
A low groan. A howling in the far treeline
as young saplings strain to hold back
the weight of water. The forest’s distance,
an entire neighborhood hushed in early dawn
quiet. Absent any sound save for the dripping
from storm gutters hung like crowns around
the trailers’ rooftops. Already swollen.
Overflowed. Desperate to break.
By dawn, the water has risen to our chests & we are all frantic in flight,
desperate to leave before the waves hammer us into the earth like unruly nails.
Kari is trying to run, but the creek is too high, so speed is difficult. Underneath
four feet of water, the grass is impossibly slick, refusing traction & she has
a baby held above the waterline when the mud slips, shears her foot sharply
to the left & she plunges into the murk, full submersion, no savior in sight,
Autumn hovering against gravity for two terrifying seconds then falling hard
into the spray & Kari leaps up with a mother’s greatest fear lodged in her throat,
one single sound stretched into an eternity & all we hear is the screaming,
the blood-shriek of maternal terror in our ears & then Russ streaks like an arrow
piercing air, plunges his arm into the murk, searching for a hold & we keep our breath
captive, sealed tight in our lungs for an eternity, until his arm pulls back from the depths
& we see Autumn held by the collar – bathed in mud, shivering, red-faced
& screaming. Unharmed. Still alive.
& when the flood recedes, we collect
every broken bone we can find. pile them
in the street for the flames. touch spark
to tinder, watch our horrors burn. the landlord
carries a torch. feeds the fire’s hunger with gasoline
& splinters of former homes. air crackles.
dark smoke escapes into the sky. Someone careless
tosses a cardboard box filled with brass
& black powder, & suddenly we are all ashen
faces dripping with fear. Years later we tell
the stories: how we first escaped the reaper,
running too fast for the rain to catch us.
How very nearly the clawed hands reach out
from glowing embers to grab us, to take back
what was first stolen from its grasp.
How it all went up in tongues of flame,
every bit of safety we knew consumed
before our eyes, the sinking hopelessness
in our chests, the rage of the inferno,
how beautiful it all was as it burned.
& wasn’t I everything you longed for on those endless dry days
you watched your skin burn red beneath the sun? Didn’t you pray
to that cerulean void, face upturned, desperate for my touch?
You cried out, fatigued, sweltered by the rising mercury, begged
for relief, said the dust laid heavy on your tongue,
mourned over the crops as they withered in your fields.
& like a watchful guardian, I came to you. Attended to your needs,
poured out an abundance of blessing to cool your parched tongues.
& perhaps I was overly swift with my caress, too eager
to yield to your petitions. But what mother could ever see
her children ravished by thirst & offer only a swallow? What father,
being asked for a feast, could withhold all but a single crumb?
William James is a poet, punk rocker, and train enthusiast from Manchester, NH. He’s the founder & editor-in-chief of Beech Street Review, a contributing editor for Drunk In A Midnight Choir & the author of “rebel hearts & restless ghosts” (Timber Mouse, 2015). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in SOFTBLOW, Word Riot, Radius Lit, Hobart, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter (@thebilljim) or at http://www.williamjamespoetry.com