This poem is based on Rachel McKibbens’s intriguing exercise #75.
It was during Nixon that Dad peached away
commercial-size cans of chili
and during Ford that he silvered down coffee cans
full of the heavy, quiet coins.
Dad lectured us over dinners
how to barter them when the crash came,
forbade us ever to tell of these commodities
waiting patient as spiders in our secret crawlspace.
He said the crisis would pit every family
against every other, and when the worst
happened to him–as it would someday anyway–
we were to defend our coins and canned goods
with our own little lives, since on those goods
our lives would depend.
So I thought to supplement with my own
secret stash, since I didn’t know just how deep that pitting
might dig. But when I went to gather up my trust, my safety,
my faith that anyone would think to take care of me,
I found they’d already been stolen. Instead I gathered crackers
and baggies of salted sunflower seeds, and summered
my third-grade year high in our backyard willow.
From there, I commanded a view of neighbors’ houses
and warned away my old friend Tracie. My little brother, too,
unable to climb as high, was consigned to the chaos and Commies.
I missed our German Shepherd, so I built a harness and pulley
to haul King up to the broad branch
where I camped. I winched up kibble for him, too,
and did not mind the magpies swooping for it.
Through the summer, I became a rough-barked dictator
sticky with willow sap and independence
on my leafy island. I controlled my own economy
and the comings and goings of a sizeable dog.
In the silent, often-anxious hours
between magpies yelling me their anthems
and ants bearing tribute of shiny beetle shells,
I pondered the twinned rivalry
between power and vulnerability
and concluded I wanted neither.
Yet I keep that summer socked away still
among the webs of memory
in case, in a crisis, I am forced
to defend it.