Hurricane Billion Dollar Betsy roaring
toward New Orleans will kill 73 people
tomorrow, but this afternoon, September 8th,
1965, all these Florida boys see
are bigger waves in the Gulf than they’ve ever seen.
Denny, Rob, Sammy, and my dad are four wet cores
of themselves — fifteen, growing into thicker skins —
but today, they’re freer than they know as they run
down the pier, wet feet slapping concrete, grinning
into the rain-shot gusts, through the turnstile outside
the locked up bait shop, easing their eely bodies through
with their homemade plywood skimming boards they’ve painted
with cartoon devils, sailors, and heroes. Their dads,
at home smoking and whiskey-shot, don’t give a shit
where they’ve gone or what they do if they don’t get caught.
So, as they’ve done all morning, they race to the end
of the pier and look out over the last railing.
Big, angry swells, all the way to the horizon.
It’s a two-story drop onto the charging crests
and closer to three to the troughs. By now they know
what happens if you catch one low — you bottom out,
your board’s nose catches in the sand, you flip, you roll,
get chewed up, shell-raked, laid open, pumped full of salt,
and crash land on the hard-packed sand. Your buddies laugh.
You do it again. They’re all a little bloody.
They cup and pass around a last damp cigarette
from their stash on the beach. Behind them, the long dark
limbs of the Australian pines in the parking lot
wave almost frantically in this wind, as if they know
what’s coming. Vietnam. A gunshot suicide.
A drunk driver on a Christmas morning. A long string
of blue and purple clouds roil over the ocean.
Their cherry flares. Smoke rips in streams from their faces,
and they’re laughing, ready to vault in.