On the 27th of April, a violent storm plowed a massive swath of destruction across the the Southeast. The cost in life is unspeakable, the cost in property is incalculable. The damage runs deep-- beyond the death toll, beyond the structures--into the psyche of those affected by the devastation; a depth I cannot fathom. As a poet, I could not help but be fascinated by such an event; the poetic mind is, I think, less creative than it is empathetic and less that than morbidly curious--if not as a whole, than at least for me. So in the aftermath of the storm--the news coverage, the horrifying images--of course I was compelled by my blinking cursor to say something. To make note of the event if not sense of it. But I knew I was no match for the cataclysm. Nature, as she often does, had left me nonplussed.
A couple of days passed. I took stock of the storm's disarray, hoping to find my way into some aspect of its horror (empathy) or beauty (curiosity). Then I remembered something I heard on the radio when the tornado was bushwhacking Tuscaloosa. The meteorologist had said something about the debris--how it was turning up in Birmingham, falling from the sky.
Then I wrote the following poem. It does not do justice to the storm. Because it can not. In fact, the storm is intentionally distant, ravaging elsewhere, juxtaposed with the relative calm of a flower garden. Because flower gardens, I can do. EF-4 tornadoes--not so much. This is still a work in progress (and please do chime in, if so inclined) but I thought I'd share it while it's fresh.
“ . . .soon in glory bright unclouded . . .”
Tornadoes came to Alabama—commemorative
Stamp of blasted timber, shattered homes.
Miles away, Eugenia transplanted bulbs
Of tulip. Each time she stood, her spine radiated
Tendrils of flame. Wincing, she spaded
The soil. Winds flexed and muscled trees.
Eugenia sang her favorite hymn.
“ . . . all my sins and grief to bear . . .”
Tornadoes ambushed Tuscaloosa, spun
Cars and children and motel receipts
From clandestine loves. Hailstones the size
Of tulip bulbs. “ . . . what a privilege to carry . . .”
A photo fell in Eugenia’s garden, worse
For the weather—torn and grimed, missing
The head of the man beside the woman
Who smiled a smile for the ages, eyes cinched
Against a flash in the offing.
Eugenia hummed an interlude, surveyed
The sky—white clouds and blue on blue.
“ . . . o, what peace we often forfeit . . .”
Eugenia resumed. The photo flew
On a gust. She reached but her back caught fire.
She passed an hour supine, watching mementos
Fall, blinking off incidental splats of rain.
Litter like ashes like weeds in her garden—
To be plucked and shoe-boxed just in case.
“ . . . blessed Savior thou hast promised . . . "
Tornadoes plowed, Eugenia sang. A smile for the ages
Flew—mile after mile on weakening gales.