Iīm sitting on a bench outside Big Lots
waiting for Cathy and the girls to pick me up,
an uneventful shopping spree for me
so Iīm empty-handed as Irene batters Norfolk
and already millions without power on the coast
and eight dead . . .
Iīm not paying attention to much, just zoning out
a bit in this stagnant, fetid air, watching folks
come and go, and soon I hear a screech
which at first I mistook for a girl or woman
but turns out to be this tyke, a boy of about four
tugged by his mother to their van
which has pulled up almost directly in front
of me . . . it sounds like mayhem for the boy
and heīs drenched in something sticky and wet
and altogether disgusting. "What is happening to me?"
he wails. "What is it? What is it?" Heīs spread his arms
away from his body and flicks off the muck
with terrified passion. "What is it? What is it?"
The mother says calmly, sweetly, "You threw up
on yourself, thatīs all," and the boy howls, "Why?
Why? Why? What is it? Clean me, Mommy!"
She begins removing his shirt and, in an attempt to soothe,
says, "Youīre sick, you threw up, itīs nothing."
"Oh, why, why, why am I sick? Help! Help!"
The motherīs eye catches mine as she removes
his shorts, and I smile in sympathy, for I too
have been spewed upon by my own children,
and she smiles as if to say "Fun, eh?"
And the boy shrieks, jumps up and down, punches
at his own body: "What is it? What is it?"
As if no answer suffices, as if to say,
nothing can explain such desecration and defilement
and the only option is to scream in anguish
because the answers, so soothing, so gentle,
lack conviction, because reason has failed,
because the horror of what can become of us
has raised its flag in the very mulch of innocence.