Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In the First Years

artwork: ralph murre

In the First Years
by Donna Hilbert

I don’t know exactly what he does all day,
my fresh-pressed engineer
how his slide-rule calculates
movement buried in the passageways
of pipes and tanks.
He uses words like
volatile, effluent, pressure.

But, I know what I do
rumpled mommy of two,
in a neighborhood so strange
I think it dangerous to stroll them to the park
alone. Mostly, I stay home
and wash piles of laundry
I never sort or fold,
cook food that doesn’t taste quite right,
although I won’t admit
nothing’s ever really good.

Sometimes I drive him to work
when I want the car to visit
my mother in the valley.
The refinery air is sulfurous
and thick, it makes the babies
in the back-seat gag, get sick,
vomit with such force they splatter my back
with flecks of puke, so I never
come entirely clean.

We go back after dusk
to pick him up.
The air still stinks, but the tanks
light up like Christmas.
In a couple of years the plant explodes
leaving a co-worker dead.
And, I will throw a plate of spaghetti
a whisper from my husband’s head.
But in the first years, no notion
of what comes after—
the fragile welds that held us
a match strike from disaster.

~ first published in 5 A.M.