By Davi Walder
For A, again
Forty-eight hours by plane, train, and tuk-tuk
to reach the last lap—a leaking long-tail
boat sputtering between rocks, squalls
and swells. It coughs us onto sand where
dark hands of island gypsies pull our salt-
crusted limbs from the Andaman Sea. The body,
searching for the damp scrap of a Sanskrit
address, tells the tale of transit. Swollen
feet, muscles taut from lines and lugging,
the ache of locked bowels and trapped
intestines. Lungs expel stale air and squalor;
a heart pounds loose from tight moorings.
More than a year of waiting. Calls crackling,
the sudden flood of the familiar trailing off
into night silence. Flimsy blue letters,
blurred photographs, hunting for the scent,
the touch of a daughter’s life. Now, the path
leads up from the foaming sea, up limestone
cliffs to coconut palms, a school, a hut cut
into the jungle. Yellow beaks, red-striped wings
dart between the green. Light and heat swallow
the air. `Continue 28 days after exposure. Avoid
sun,’ reads the doxycyline bottle. Glasses steam,
a hat wilts in the island’s glitter and glare.
Shaky legs carry me up the cliff path. Higher,
a shadow looms. Ridiculous, I whisper, warding
off gibbons, rats, elephants, untying the thread
of letters fingered like worry beads through long
seasons. White tinged clouds roll in from the sea.
I push my glasses high on my head, focusing on
the shape growing taller, tanner than memory.
A sudden breeze frees a figure from the web
of dreams. She is running, trailing orchids
and lotus blossoms. Jumping and laughing,
we bang into each other. Bones and flesh meld.
Crushed petals sweeten our scents. Claps of
thunder, falling drops. High above the sea,
we are wet cheeks and sheets of water, a mother
and daughter wrapped in the damp of each other,
the monsoon washing us in its warm cocoon.
What you learn during Hurricane Allison
When you finally pull over under an overpass,
breathe, and unlock your knuckles after hours
of gripping and hunching through blinding sheets
of water, in the sudden quiet of the car, you learn
how mean thunder sounds, how fierce lightening
is when it cracks open the sky’s black eye.
You learn to be thankful for headlights and wipers
that work, defrosters that defog, and humans
who huddle in hurricanes, for the comfort
of blinking blurs who pull off just behind you.
You learn hurricane hospitality, edging up
to share the little protection that an overpass
provides from nature’s furious cacophony.
You learn to be grateful that you are not driving
the huge red, white, and blue bus that sends
waves crashing against your door, thankful
you are not one of the seventy terrified captives
staring out of bus windows above you
who know they are being driven to certain death.
You learn that a storm sitting on top of you
holds all the cards, that all you can do is fold
‘em until it’s had its way with you. You learn
to be thankful for a cell phone’s tiny numbers
and dim light You learn the meaning of pure joy
when the silly tune jingles and your daughter’s
sweet voice chuckles from her rented truck
fifty miles behind, asking, `Howyadoin’, Mom?
It’s only drizzling here.’ Under an overpass
during Hurricane Allison, you learn again
how much you love your daughter and how
fervently you can pray that she will never
name her children after hurricanes.
Davi Walders‘ poetry and prose have appeared in more than 200 anthologies and journals, including The American Scholar, JAMA, Washington Woman, Seneca Review, Potomac Review, Travelers’ Tales, and elsewhere. Her collection on women’s resistance during WW II (WOMEN AGAINST TYRANNY) was published by Clemson University Press, 2011. She developed and directed the Vital Signs Writing Project at NIH in Bethesda, MD which was funded by The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. Gifts, another collection of poetry, was commissioned by the Milton Murray Foundation for Philanthropy. She has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant, a Puffin Foundation Grant, a Maryland State Artist Grant in Poetry, a Luce Foundation Grant, and fellowships to Ragdale Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts for her writing. Her work has been choreographed and performed in NYC and elsewhere, read by Garrison Keillor on Writer’s Almanac, and nominated for Pushcart Prizes. “Monsoon Reunion” was previously published by Ms. Magazine.