We toasted to drinking like rock stars
and partying like movie stars and girls
with small noses and lower back tattoos.
We tinked our glasses, tinked-tinked and tilted,
swallowing the dread of love and loss
that makes us tremble at the end of the night.
The tequila went down like the
Titanic, sending Rob into his spasms of Oh lawd!
Oh lawdy-lawdy-lawd! We breathed like dragons
and clawed for sex like the rest of our bodies did too.
Fill the hurricane glass
three-quarters with ice
Pour in rum and passion
fruit, orange and lime juice
Add grenadine and shake
That night everyone kept going back
to the satellite pictures. Each time,
the gauzy circular saw of the storm would stop
and start its slow grind again and again,
the weather forecast on one TV, sound off,
Apocalypse Now on the other, sound on,
and the girls back for college with new
womanhood danced with their hips
under the TVs obliviously. If there was a warning,
we didn’t see it. No one stopped to pray.
“Smell that? You smell that?”
“Napalm, son. Nothing in the world smells like that.”
I knew by now I was driving toward
marriage. Laura moved in with me
in May. We would lie next to each other
after going to bed, the breath from
the ceiling fan cooling the sweat on our skin,
at once calming and stirring our blood
like the blades of a Blackhawk just after liftoff.
We would name our unborn children
as they did hurricanes, retiring the offensive
ones that reminded us of old loves.
“Do you know that if is the middle word in life?”
The movie whirling to the final sacrificial scene,
Rob rounded us up for another round.
Something sea-green. I didn’t ask, just tilted,
and as the undertow pulled in my throat,
I could feel the sour heat rising up,
scraping sand grains from my chest.
I rushed out to brown sidewalk, sideways rain
whooshing in from the gulf, steadied my 25 years
between their fortunes and failures, folding
and unfolding my hands like an uneasy penitent
on each side of a black plastic bag round can
and everything inside me crashing.
Michael J. Grabell‘s first poetry chapbook, Macho Man, won the Finishing Line Press prize and was nominated for a Pushcart. His poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry anthology, Best New Poets 2009, Southwest Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Rattle, and Tampa Review. He has won a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize and was runner-up in the River Styx International Poetry Contest. Grabell is an investigative reporter for ProPublica, where he has produced stories for the New York Times, NPR, and Time magazine.