the getaway plan, a poem

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The Getaway Plan (Late Fall, 2001)

I am on the phone
with my neighbor
who has the most delicate
blue eyes in all the world
jeweled inside tissue-thin lids
listening to her evacuation plan

my own words
fail me
my chest is tight
my ribcage bound with steel
bands of dread

three days’ worth of food
she tells me
and don’t forget your
important papers

while I’m trying to decide
what the word important
means anymore
my three-year-old cries
for gummi bears

she’s had too much
candy already this night
because when she kneels
and cries, begging for more
I can’t say no

what terrifies me most
is a vision of her
as she might end up, should the world
melt around us
and leave us where mothers and babies
get ground into dust

a place with no pity
where her eyes stop shining
with tears for candy
a place where her eyes
stop shining altogether

my 78-year-old neighbor
a beautiful woman
with glowing silver hair
that caresses her neck
like my grandmother’s once did
tells me exactly what I should pack
so we can leave immediately
just in case they blow up
the three nuclear reactors
in our state
the closest just 70 miles away

she’s got maps of the wind currents
so we’ll know which road to take

she says Florida will never
be habitable again
and I think of the gopher tortoise
who lives out near the barn
how when I mow the field
I so carefully avoid its burrow
because it’s endangered

I see it crossing the dirt road
every couple of days
our eyes always meet but
I’m sure it won’t remember me
after I’m gone

and all the while she talks
I am trying to breathe
and act as though
I am going to keep my children
safe from harm

but there’s something wrong
with my chest
it’s those steel bands

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