Thirty-Eight Minutes

by Kathleen Peppard

What do you do when you receive
the emergency alert warning


Actually, you don’t receive the message
because you ignore the loud signal
on your phone. You’re on vacation,
damn it! Then your sister calls
from the chiropractor’s office.
You ask, Well, are you coming home?
She says, No, it’s just minutes away.
Close the windows and stay inside.
You say, Okay, I love you.
She says, I love you too.

You think, I came all this way
to visit my sister and now
we won’t even die together.
You picture yourself on your knees,
praying, as you did during
the Cuban missile crisis,
but you were a child then and now
–let’s face it–
you don’t pray like that anymore.

You ask yourself: if these are
the last minutes of my life,
how do I want to spend them?
You close the windows, as instructed.
You leave a message for your husband
back home, trying to sound positive:
Keeping our fingers crossed!
You do not feel the exclamation point.

You remember that he doesn’t check voice mail.
You send a text. You decide not to call your son.
What if the bomb hits while you’re talking to him?
Better that he find out later.
You try to get information on the internet.
What are the correct search terms?
There is no news.
You wonder, if the missile hits and you survive,
will you still be able to catch your plane on Tuesday?
You realize that this is a stupid thought.

You sit on the floor with the dog,
your sister’s dog, who is very calm
and glad for the company, though
she’d be just as happy on the bed.
You wonder if you should change
out of your ratty old nightgown
into your sundress. If you are not
vaporized, maybe you should be dressed,
as a courtesy to the person
who finds your body.

You forget to think of all that you are grateful for.
You are living in the present moment
(and an uncertain immediate future)
noticing your reactions.
You think about meditating
but that seems too complicated.
Still, you are glad
that you have meditated in the past,
that you are paying attention,
that you are not panicked.

Your sister calls again:
It’s probably a false alarm.
Thirty-eight minutes after the initial
message, a second one comes,
declaring the alert to be a mistake.
You send a text to your husband.
You open the slats of one window,
look at the view: the same houses,
trees, ocean, clouds, blue sky.
As it was in the beginning.

Your sister comes home,
you eat a big breakfast together–
eggs, bacon, kale, goat cheese,
potatoes–then go to the beach.
You look at the impossibly green water,
all the people romping and bathing,
as if they haven’t a care in the world.


Kathleen Peppard has worked as a psychotherapist, college instructor and interfaith lay minister. Though an English major as an undergraduate, she didn’t begin to appreciate poetry until her late thirties. Reading then led to writing. She gardens in the summer and writes in the winter in Olympia, Washington.



Filed under Poetry

2 responses to “Thirty-Eight Minutes

  1. Maureen Keating

    I absolutely love this! I felt like I was present for this event, and more importantly with the writer during the event. Congrats to the writer!

  2. Marilyn Frasca

    Marilyn Frasca
    This is perfect.

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