The Green Flash
And on certain nights on palm-treed Cayman beaches,
the renters wander out at sunset among the scattered
chairs, the half-buried sandwich crusts, all the clatter
of the day gone, the babies glazed with sleep,
and all of us waiting for the sun to move. It’s thought
to sink into the water in a flash of green; we gather around
the few old men who’ve seen it, the kingfishers hovering
too, like disciples, aware that more often than not,
you can’t look at the sun head-on, like a lot of other things—
your brother’s anxious tics, say, or the war on TV. You wonder
what would change if you saw it, what would happen to you after;
whether part of you—like the soul of some marooned conch, clinging
to its sea-crusted shell—would suddenly lift off, shudder
free: rise up with the birds, toward some far empyrean rafter.
On the night of your uncle’s funeral, your mother tells you
how the priest drove the wrong way to the cemetery,
while both Aunt Sofia and the hearse turned right instead of left,
and when they finally met at the gravesite, the priest
got out of the car and started yelling at Aunt Sofia,
waving his hands and saying, “Why didn’t you follow me,”
because he was embarrassed, and Aunt Sofia cried and said something
in her Hungarian English, and later your father went up to the priest
and told him he should be ashamed, she was a woman
at her husband’s funeral—and when it is all over, across the country,
you say the rosary for your uncle at your desk on base
with your work spread out in front of you, and your hands
run over the beads and over the papers but instead of Mary’s face
all you can see is the priest, waving his arms in the cemetery,
and your uncle, how he would have laughed if he had been there.
Nights in the Gulf
I wish I knew you there,
a man curled up in a doll’s bed and the tailhooks
pounding overhead and always
people up and down the stairs and
never enough hours, never enough quiet to last the night.
I wish I knew you over Kandahar,
the puckered smoke-black mountains
and the gunfire spitting at your tail, and the calls
coming in and going out and in those times,
or when it’s over and you’re making your way back,
I wonder if you come across angels while you’re praying
for the mail, see the faces of your grandparents
sliding past you in the dark.
Sometimes at night,
I walk to the beach where I took that last
photograph of you, remember how you worried
things would be different after so much time, that the dog
perhaps would not know you,
that this life you loved once
would just be one more thing to lose.
In the bathroom, fingering the wheel of tiny blue pills, you know that in a month he’ll be deployed and gone for eight more after that, but there is Dubai in August if the flights are cheap, the dripping heat and those white hotel sheets, and three months later if he comes home you might be in California, some desert town where they say the hospitals aren’t good and the air is bad for children, but if it isn’t California it will be Texas and either way the sun will be hot and red and the nights very cold, and you’ll be far from your parents who are aging, walking hesitantly now like toddlers, and either way you’ll have to sell the house by the ocean you came to love so much, the jets roaring in like lions from the front, and inside every cockpit, somebody’s beloved daughter or somebody’s beloved son coming back to life.
On Sundays when I wake alone again
to the dog’s snoring, a day of keeping house,
the bells ringing from the church next door,
I remember that we pray before different altars—
his a trembling ship at sea, a few lights in the rainy
darkness, and out there he is not someone’s spouse,
not someone’s son, but someone far from here, at war.
At home, things are not the way they were.
Sometimes I dream myself into an old life—
a game of tag in the driveway, the cats sleeping
in the shade—there was always another hour
for reading, always my mother laughing on the phone,
and so much time between child and wife,
so many well-worn prayers, for God to keep me.
But I knew things then I don’t know now—
that God was real, and I would never be alone.
Prayers of an American Wife
Two hours from Santiago by the Pato Piraña bus,
the cookie-makers hawk their dulces on the corner.
They hang their baskets on tree branches; they are tired
as men who stoop over workbenches all day.
In college, I stayed in a hotel over the square,
the sweet smell of manjar curled like a sleeping cat
in the back of every closet—while outside, the vendors
called prices to the children scrambling home for lunch.
I was so far from home.
One day, three years into a marriage that took my husband
to another far ocean, I would dream back that too-bright place.
Another wives’ club dinner, another river-city blackout,
and surely I know it all goes on somewhere still:
those white-eared dogs jumping at the trees;
the schoolgirls sitting cross-legged by the fountain,
teasing and flirting—though I imagine it’s possible
the buses have long stopped coming,
the highway petering out one day a few miles from town,
and the black-capped drivers getting out at the end of the line
and scratching their heads, peering into the tall grass
where an old dirt road used to be.
In the forties my grandmother worshipped
sand as pale as Irish skin, the sirens
of casinos on summer afternoons.
One night, walking home from a dance,
a corsage red as a heart on her wrist,
she heard the footsteps of a man behind her,
quick and slow, quick and slow.
These were the months of the boardwalk murders,
the curfews and pocketknives slipped into stockings,
but in the end she was saved by a gate—a latch
she knew and he did not—and a sprint to the front door,
while a neighbor’s lights came on, yellow
as a cat’s eyes in the dark.
In the fifties she married a man who drank
away the scalded bodies of Nagasaki, and
how many nights did she wake then to the rattle
of a latch in the yard, the footsteps
of a man at the edge of her bed,
so her daughter could have a daughter who
loved the ocean too but saw
the wreckage of a different war.
Last year my dad dreamed he saw his dead father in the driveway, leaning against the hood of the red Jaguar they sold in 1966. Dad thought Grandpa had come for him, but he turned to see my grandmother bounding down the porch steps, purseless, with her skirt in her hands. She hadn’t run in years. My grandfather held out his hand, and my father watched as they climbed into the car, waving at him like a couple of kids after a wedding. Two days later, in the waking world, my grandmother was taken to the hospital, and the whole time she was dying she was looking over our shoulders at something in the corner of the room. It occurred to me that my father, like his father and mother before him, used to say, Someday when I’m older…, but then got old, and that everyone who’s aged out of our lives might still be getting older somewhere else, blowing candles and breaking piñatas and making the crazy plans of people with all the time in the world.
SOUTHWEST REVIEW | “When the Men Go Off to War”
ALASKA QUARTERLY REVIEW | “The Messengers” and “Almost”
THE SOUTH CAROLINA REVIEW | “Kwansaba for a Wounded Warrior”
NIMROD | “To My Husband, Flying over Afghanistan”
THE AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW and THE PEDESTAL | “Standing on the Airfield, Before War”
BARROW STREET | “The Green Flash”
HARPUR PALATE | “The Funeral”
THE HOPKINS REVIEW | “Nights in the Gulf”
THE CHARITON REVIEW | “Planning”
GEORGETOWN REVIEW | “Prayers of an American Wife”
Victoria Kelly’s chapbook Prayers of an American Wife. To purchase the chapbook please visit the Coal Hill Review chapbook catalog.