A Storm at Family Dinner

Ask my grandmother what it is like to live 
with her husband, my Papa,
and she'll point her doe eyes straight 
into your soul with a gaze full of fear.
Fear of the constant storm that hangs 
around his head, constantly threatening
to break on her doorstep.
 
Just as every storm begins 
with a clear blue sky,
so too he has moments of clarity.
Just an old man, with some brown hair left on his head,
as relaxed as the cat who curls up in his lap
while he naps sitting up in his armchair
wearing corduroy pants older than me
a ballgame droning in the background.
 
His grandkids, me among them, walk in. He jolts 
awake (was he even asleep?), opens 
his arms wide as the Long Island Sound.
The pine forest of his chin smothers 
us, scratches us.
We are at ease: unaware, unprepared,
for the building storm.
 
As we sit down at the table, his pride
so endearing when directed towards his grandchildren,
is prickled by inadvertent, insignificant slights:
a misplaced chair,
a forgotten prayer.
It coagulates into clouds
white as first snow,
then ashen gray.
 
The stubborn grit that got him up at 4 a.m. every morning 
in time to catch a train to the City 
becomes a wind that blows strong as a giant's breath,
whipping the clouds into a torpor
adding energy to a foaming, churning mass of energy
ready to explode
waiting only for a spark.
 
What will light 
the inferno? A look?
A remark?
A split-second decision?
A revision
to the way things ought to be.
All we can do is hope and pray
to avoid an inadvertent
striking of the match.
 
What form will the tempest take?
 
A hurricane of reflection
on the moral decay
of the nation?
 
A tsunami that sweeps 
him away, out 
the slamming door and into the car, accelerating 
him out of control?
 
Suddenly, spark touches tinder and burns.
With a flash of lightning,
what was once the voice 
of a stock broker raucously demanding twelve shares
becomes roaring thunder. We brace 
ourselves on the table as the storm sweeps over us.
Wincing, we wait.
 
As abruptly as they appeared
the storm clouds subside, living 
on only in best-avoided memories.
Like the survivors of a hurricane
we are left to pick 
up the pieces, put 
them back in place
and start over, praying 
it will never happen again.
 

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