Keith Montesano’s first book, Ghost Lights, a finalist for the 2008 Orphic Prize, will be published by Dream Horse Press in 2010. Other poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, American Literary Review, Third Coast, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. He is currently a PhD Candidate in English at Binghamton University.
Already the panic has begun. The questions: Who will crash? What will burn out? Instead of generators flaring, transformers blowing up — power shriveled and disintegrating into gray sky — lightning surges in gunmetal bursts. No footprints on the sidewalks like those on Mexican beaches, spring break: no sirens to rescue the helpless, beheaded, the drug lords and headlines of shattered families we keep reading about. I want so badly now to hold you under this sky, but already you’re asleep, as lights pop on and off in massive dilation, the snow swirling in and out against rattling windows. We hear fire trucks and minor collisions at the end of an alley. Our power wavers: A car into a telephone pole? A dying limb collapsing powers lines? We’ve never seen the city like this: where wars weren’t reenacted, where horses trampled through grass before street grids, unlike Pennsylvania, where school was never cancelled, where we drove drunk after last call, roads never too slick for us to handle. There are few cars now, three floors below, wheels spinning as they turn from street to street. I’m sure we’re not the only onlookers — children want to bury their hands, challenge frostbite and everything unknown. You asked me the other day how we ended up in Richmond, or maybe how you ended up here, and I took the how to mean why. Still I keep waiting for rats to scuttle and zigzag from sewer to sewer, but the storm doesn’t tempt them. The same with squirrels, who can’t be found, who care nothing about electricity, out now for who-knows-how-long. I imagine unmonitored fireplaces, roofs weighted to collapse, hidden circuit sparks waiting to catch curtains: anything that will burn. But we’re safe now, we think, and consider ourselves the smart ones, not out swerving over roads: necessary drives toward dying fathers, perpetual business trips, addicts shuddering through alleys to find warmth in their veins. We have candles burning, our battery-less flashlight crank-turned and shining. There are those assuming this will be the end, feverishly kissing as only six inches come down, and for the moment I want to be next to them as the snow changes to hail, pocking the white pool on our balcony. On the other side of our country, Californians flee from wildfires. The fifty who died months ago in the Buffalo plane crash may look down upon us now, unable to lend forgiveness. Tomorrow we’ll hear of fuel trucks separating on the interstate, splitting slowly as the hail turns to rain, to black ice and its chaotic invisibility. The lightning rips like distant and seconds-long bombs, and while no one reaches their fire escapes, some have packed and, for now, left this world behind, while others take let’s-make-love-before-we-die as the only thing they have. You may be asleep right now, but without the fan whirring its white noise, the silence will keep me awake all night, streetlights still flickering in blackness, while children, with school cancelled for days, remain tucked inside their beds. What we want is to say we feel something: the this-may-be-it that we live through, the ton of metal beneath us when flat tires skid our families toward the guardrail. And in this city of grids and apartments and always-just-miles-away shootings, we’re locked into something now, something we tell ourselves will not end in ash, drifting down, only to blanket us all.