–Jefferson City, MO, tornado, 11:40 PM, May 22nd/23rd, 2019
Two days later you navigate the ruts in the road,
fallen trees, torn roofs, swinging wires, broken poles
to a house at the end of a broken street and a gravel path,
up the steps of a porch still strong, an electric box dangling,
no windows broken, branches and car parts a picture frame.
When the door opens, heat rushes outside. A frail woman
at the door. Yes, she says. On her kitchen table,
a melting ice-cream carton, bags of leaking vegetables,
the soiled odor of spoiled milk. Come in, she says.
No electricity, a water pipe maligned, gas turned off.
All around you, every house has a sign—you can stay or
you must vacate. There is no sign on her front door.
You’re the first people I’ve seen in three days. Is it safe?
We have food, you tell her, and water. One of us
can remain with you. We’ll see if we cannot get you help.
And then the wind of the tornado slips from her.
her body rocks, then shivers, one hand goes to her face.
Sorry, she says. I can’t help it and she cries and cries.
Michael H. Brownstein is on the roof of his old house, the roof in serious disrepair, and he walks on it as if he’s on a boardwalk – a squirrel falls through where he just stood – what is left to do but go to all fours, tread carefully until he’s on safe ground, call the roofers (he can’t fix this), and write a poem.
He’s walking across a great field, firecrackers exploding. He swats away at dozens of mosquitoes. Near where he teaches, the security guard tackles him and points out a sniper who has been shooting at him as he crossed. There is nothing else to do but conduct a poetry workshop in his algebra class.
He goes camping, and a rattlesnake crawls into his sleeping bag. Prayer and poetry – they really do go together.
On and on. Take a break. Write a poem.
Photograph by Robert Lawson.