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California Blackouts: Monterey, 1945

ISSUE:  Summer 1996

On his face that subtle bludgeoning.
The blow received—acknowledged.
He was a child. And I a child
watching him. He’d never meant
to joke, the flailing gait,
hands shifting along each wall,
guiding him. And I hadn’t meant
to laugh: it was his head snapping back
on the too-white, fragile neck then swinging
loosely akimbo, the incongruity of his legs
buckling wide, crumpling against the yellowing
restaurant wall, my wild laugh following him.

I was a child. That was no day of regret.
My mother didn’t reprimand me.
Her gray-green eyes, at lunch,
seemed saddened scanning the Monterey coast,
its churned-up whitecaps surging beyond our window,
the sea lions’ melancholy barks shuddering higher
then subsiding to a drone until all around me
appeared darkened. “Cerebral palsy,”
my mother murmured when I asked, the fork
with its red-sauce stains dangling loosely
from her fingers. Nothing affected me then.
Not the man’s too-large smile fading
from the next table, the staticky
advisories of bombings and blackouts;
not even the tadpole whose head
I’d split against a rock to see dull blood spread
thicker than an oil slick underwater,
fish chasing him while he writhed
lopsided away. It scarcely occurred to me those days
how the sky, roiling blue, foamed blacker after midnight
until quietly something eroded
in that well-oiled clock of sky and color and cloud,

and the paleness of the brightening bombs ran
glistening over all, the swallows in the meadow,
the deer with their near-ebony, luminous eyes
peering out from the hunter’s clearing
as if they understood everything.


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