After the Stroke

By the time he’d hit eighty, he was something out of Ovid,
his long beak thin and hooked,
                                            the fingers of one hand curled and stiff.
Still, he never flew. Only sat in his lawn chair by the highway,
waving a bum wing at passing cars.

I was a timid kid, easily spooked. And it seemed like touchy gods
were everywhere—in the horns
and roar of diesels, in thunder, wind, tree limbs thrashing
the windows at night.

I was ashamed to be afraid of my grandfather.
But the hair on his ears!
                                   The cackle in his throat!
Then on his birthday, my mother coaxed me into the yard.
I carried the cake with the one tiny candle

and sat it on a towel in the shade.
I tried not to tremble,
but it felt like gods were everywhere—in the grimy clouds
smothering the pine tops, the chainsaw
in Cantrell’s woods—everywhere, everywhere,
and from the look of the man
in the lawn chair, he’d pissed one off.