Cataclysm Days: Arizona Conservatives Revert to Old Forms of Worship by Chuck Von Nordheim

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Narrated by Fay Richardson

Chuck Von Nordheim, "Cataclysm Days: Arizona Conservatives Revert to Old Forms of Worship"
Illustrated by Sue Babcock

Laura plays with her Barbies in the corner of the cave next to our ammo crates
Offerings need setup, so Dad left me in charge, to include sister surveillance
By the signal fire, I melt bullets from lead while I keep watch

Shots sound from near the slab of sacrifice, three more precious .30 rounds
Our stock of lost world products shrinks each day in support of current emergencies
Pipes repurposed to muskets replace unsustainable rifles

Dad will dig out the slugs from the skull of our old campmate once his life leaks away
Not for recycling’s sake, but because the mutants dislike metal
Best to prep the tastiest treats we can, Dad says, so those giant spiders stay friends

Dad laughs when I tell him experts call them tarantulas not spiders
He says all the old labels belong with the rest of the crap in the midden
No arachnids he knew could read human minds, so we might just as well call them gods

Laura relives lost world scenes through her dolls, bidding Ken to punch Barbie’s rigid face
Mom’s boyfriend, Paul, did the same when she said let Dad take us to safety
Paul ranted about end-time nuts until Dad solved the stalemate with a smoothbore blast

In our apocalypse exploits, people proved the riskiest factors
Tremblors plus a whiff of brimstone announce when abysses will sunder solid ground
But humans let their lust for possession cause possible havoc without warning

Clerks wanted Dad to pay cash despite the influx of creatures from underground lairs
Did they think capitalism would continue after the earth absorbed Tucson?
12-guage shells won those debates since pleas for Laura’s sake failed to convince

Tarsal claws clack on the slab’s mica when our new deity draws nigh
Dad will take on a priest’s pose above the gift, knife raised to anterior eye rows
His hand inflicts an agile coup de grace, but the sound of sliced flesh does not travel

Laura won’t hear the last gasps of the man who said he was her uncle
He didn’t voice the family claim to Dad, only to Laura if found playing alone
Did this hitchhiker we’d pitied think the chasms had swallowed up morality?

Laura puts Ken and Barbie into the Top Ramen carton she calls her toy box
Who knew instant soup would become the lost world thing I’d miss the most?
Reliable rabbit fodder fled—chasms cracked new paths—so now we broil reptiles

Maybe Mom could concoct a honey sauce for Gila monster from discarded syrups
Only half-used Mrs. Butterworth bottles stand watch in most abandoned ranches
Heavy trucks make clear tracks, though, and roads don’t lead to where they once did

I don’t miss her—I miss her meals—and Pearl Jam songs sang in a whisper
She loved her Paul more than Laura or me so she deserved to sink when Phoenix sank
No one nags me about taking my ADHD pills now, so that’s a bonus

Laura grabs the alphabet book from the library of E-Z readers Dad brought
Reading skills need reinforcement so the stored how-to books stay helpful
But I’ve already changed this primer’s words because lost world ideas no longer apply

I shout my new lines in goofy tones to block the noises from the slab
Tarantulas wield chelicerae instead of spoons to raise morsels to the mouths
Spiny jaws that scrape and squeal like unoiled hinges against the shiny mica

A is for apocalypse that punished Arizona for its decadent ways
B is for butchered ranchers that we sacrificed for their greed-filled days
C is for chasms that gulped habitations of built-up hubris in a fast bite

Why did that smelly tramp need to own Laura in that perverted way?
She sits in my lap enrapt by my recitation with her six-year-old eyes bright
If anyone asks my opinion this is the better place and humans the monsters

G is for tarantula gods who enjoy eight-legged walkabouts
F is for shaman fathers who use inner vision to steer Fords to secure redoubts
On and on I read while we wait for our Dad to return red-handed from his task


BIO: After 22 Air Force years, Chuck Von Nordheim shifted his scene of battle from the tarmac to the classroom. Now, instead of repairing radars, he teaches composition and argument at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio. One can find more of his Cataclysm Days poetry in the pages of Star*Line, Abyss & Apex, and Devilfish Review.