Five Days in the Park

Habit draws me back on Friday.
Yellow tape blocks off my park.
No admittance, no entry.
Stuck in the ground, a battered sign:
Lake Closed: Toxic Algae Bloom.
No animals to see in this tidy place.

I perch on my mountain bike,
watching the stout official
nervously sweating,
flailing with his rubber mallet,
splintering the signpost.
Driving off in a government truck.

Their warning is a troubling lie
that ignores a mystery.
I lived through a more frightening truth
than their false claims.
I saw it happen last Saturday.
When the geese went mad.

My favorite park, my escape from outside.
Peaceful, no playground.
Just grass, and seventeen grown oak trees.
An oblong pond shaped like the birthmark on my arm.
Two wooden benches and a water fountain.
Plus geese, squirrels, and birds.

The geese stay throughout the year,
placidly sailing the water.
Some days I sketched them as they posed.
Other times, I drew the family of black squirrels,
or the robins, jays, and cardinals,
in the trees, on the benches, near the water.

Three years ago, I named the geese,
famous composers, all.
I laughed to hear Mozart honking,
or Brahms, flashing his great wings.
Beethoven was the shyest.
Holst would gobble bread from my hand.

Last Saturday though,
the music stopped.
I should have stayed home, studied algebra.
Been anywhere but Moss Lake Park.
My refuge turned to wreckage.
Artwork transformed to nightmare.

I’d fallen asleep that day, shaded by leaves.
Awakened by a hurricane of wings,
all the geese rising as one,
then plunging at their fellow park dwellers.
I saw Mozart spear the young squirrel to the ground.
Brahms dashing a jay into the fountain.

Holst stalked towards my tree,
white wings spread like feathered axes.
I scrambled away,
pedaling as if a demon followed,
fearing the sound of his flight.
I fled the mania of my friends.

Sunday I returned,
cautious, with binoculars from afar.
Red carnage lingered, feathers and fur.
Yet the geese swam on.
Wearing scarlet drops,
confessions of their atrocity.

Monday brought thunderstorms,
Tuesday, my winged pals were gone.
Replaced by Park Service trucks,
uniformed men wearing heavy coats,
sturdy helmets and gloves,
hauling trash bags and hoses.

I stare at the sign and wonder.
Five days gone, and answers escape me.
I am haunted by questions, by the visions
of tiny, still forms in the grass.
The whirlwind sound of lunacy
that turned my slumber into nightmare.





johnJohn Petelle is a Desert Storm veteran of the Marine Corps. His varied career includes years spent as the editor of the Nebraska American Legion’s state newspaper, computer instructor for an elementary school, and numerous technology startup companies. He currently assists in the creation of machine learning algorithms, focused on healthcare technology. An experienced cook and avid gamer, he lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.