Alphonse Legros (1837-1911)
Property of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Probably everyone has a storm story by the time they are old enough to organize and retain memories. Mine is the year of the great Fourth of July storm that put much of Iowa City out of power, dropped electric and phone lines around the entrance to Grandma Kessler’s home, and left so many large tree branches on F Street that we couldn’t drive to our home after fleeing the downpour. The sky furnished the fireworks that day.
There were a number of interesting poems submitted this month. It is often difficult to select the winners. But these two stood out.
The ABCs of Everglades Hurricanes
The alphabet of natural disaster begins again
each June: A as in Andrew.
Since the ’50s, we name all hurricanes
that rage across this liquid land
that is southern Florida.
We recall that Isbell rearranged
the Ten Thousand Islands
on her whirlwind trip in 1964.
Inez, ’66, the crazy one, zigzagged
her path of slaughter through the Keys
and then ensued Alma, Gladys, Abby.
The ’60s rocked on and along came Donna:
Goodbye mangroves, goodbye white herons.
Down at Flamingo, it was only a matter of time,
thirty-some years of calm, before another murderous blow.
What Donna didn’t finish
in the black forest of the coast in ’68,
Wilma did in ’05.
In her deadly wake of storm surge and salt intrusion,
the Eco-Pond is going, going, almost gone.
The lodge: blown out, washed out,
doorless, windowless concrete hulk.
The maniac had done her ghost-town work.
We recite a litany of ravishment
from Madeira Bay, to Cape Sable, up to Chokoloskee,
where Lostman’s River keeps getting lost.
Will a year come when we run through our ABCs
and call the last and worst one Zora?
~ Karla Linn Merrifield
First published in The Gulf Stream: Poems of the Gulf Coast, Summer 2013.
This poem truly is “a litany of ravishment.” I liked the description of Florida as a “liquid land,” a description especially relevant to the Keys and Everglades. I was moved by the last line of stanza three: “Goodbye mangroves, goodbye white herons.” The phrase, “ghost-town work.” is very effective as the poet tells us that “What Donna didn’t finish / . . . in ’68, / Wilma did in ’05.”
Here is the other winning poem:
A Month of Storms Like Holy Wrath
Saturation. Land is liquid. Hills flow.
Trees ease onto highways
where they stand, roots and all,
like stubborn jaywalkers.
Houses slide. Roads dip
as mountains shift, shrug,
slough away the works of man.
Our gurgling crawdad stream
rushes with logs, eats the soil,
snatches a cabin, sweeps away
a full-grown man filling his lungs
with mud, breaking his body
to dump him among driftwood.
Wind whipsaws a Douglas fir
until thirty-six inches of solid trunk
snap with a sound like a bomb.
Roof shatters. Walls pop.
Upstairs become downstairs.
A skylight takes flight like a Frisbee
and lands unbroken in mud.
Clothes hang on branches.
Fir needles fill the kitchen sink.
The refrigerator lies on its side,
food sprawled over the splintered floor.
How fragile the works of man.
Yet somehow inside the crushed house
a telephone is ringing.
Who, dear Lord, is calling?
~ Joe Cottonwood
First published in Muddy River Poetry Review Spring 2018
The detailed description of damage in the third stanza is especially good—the reader can see that skylight taking flight like a Frisbee, and those fir needles in the sink. The most interesting touch, though, comes in the last stanza where, in the midst of this destruction, a telephone rings. The poet doesn’t tell us if it is landline (how could those telephone poles have survived?) or a cellphone that managed not to fly off like a Frisbee or be crushed. Either way, it is totally unexpected.
Congratulations to Karla Linn Merrifield and Joe Cotton for their excellent storm poems.
The Poets retain rights to their own poems.
Joe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life and is also the award-winning author of nine published novels, two books of poetry, and a memoir. He lives in the coastal mountains of California where he built a house and raised a family under (and at the mercy of) giant redwood trees. His most recent book is Foggy Dog: Poems of the Pacific Coast. joecottonwood.com
Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 700+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the newly released full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. Her Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is a frequent contributor to The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, and assistant editor and poetry book reviewer emerita for The Centrifugal Eye.
© Wilda Morris