At 7:30 am
a wake-up call-
No son asking
for a ride to work,
no grandson needing
a ride to school.
Instead, a calm, taped voice…
Then, the siren.
No, it’s not the practice one we all ignore,
wrong time, wrong day.
We listen to its eerie sound
carried on a tainted breeze
from one end of town to the other.
I think of World War ll, the bombs
dropped on London, the air raid sirens screaming,
and wonder what might fall from our sky.
We close the windows,
too scared to breathe the outside air.
Just up the road the towers flare,
and belch out thick black smoke.
Another phone call-
same recorded voice.
Bring pets indoors.
Industrial Park evacuated.
Two schools ordered to shelter in place.
Will the shorebirds instinctively wing west?
Will the owls who live in the tall palm across the street
fly into the neighbor’s garage and hunker down in the rafters?
Will the squirrels find a way to scurry into my basement?
Will the blood red roses that climb the wall
cover and protect themselves with a blanket of yellow pollen?
Our pristine little town becomes quiet,
playgrounds empty, no traffic on the streets-
as we stay inside and watch live coverage on TV.
No need for concern, a PR person states.
But the cheerful restaurants and art galleries
suddenly seem fake- a pleasant façade,
a way to forget the “inconvenient truth”
that we live dangerously
in this refined refinery town.
We rise to greet each morning
so certain we are safe
until that wake-up call-
bring pets indoors
shelter in place
those words flaring in my ear-
(and then the one unspoken)
Johanna Ely is Benicia’s current poet laureate.