The Aftermath: 4 Poems on Hurricane Harvey
A natural disaster as devastating as Harvey affects every one, near and far. In the aftermath of one of the most terrifying examples of climate change, poets have a unique responsibility to provide catharsis and to ask what this means for the world at large.
First up, we have a new poet-journalist for Poets Reading the News, Heather Jacobsen. This disaster hit very close to home for Heather, who escaped a flooded Houston neighborhood two years ago.
City Turned to Inland Lake
it was always a trying place to live
soupy summer evenings
under hazy orange skies
jeans plastered to your thighs
tree roots cracking through sidewalk concrete
super allergies caused by toxic pollen
collisions and near misses every day
on those twelve lanes of highway
paved over prairie land
from rapid-swelling soils
there’s always a door that won’t shut
unless you water your foundation
during the drier months
too thick to build basements
when it rains
there is nowhere for the water to go
when it rains
finally breaking the hot heavy tension
why is it always so violent?
cocky pistol-packing roaches
swaggering through your kitchen
that’s when they aren’t in flying season
now even they cling to life
floating on a plastic plate
through your dining room
it’s not the middle of the night
lightning bolts and whistling wind
shatters of glass and falling trees
that changes your life instantaneously
but the gradual rise of water creeping in
inch by inch
that eats away at you
like the slow leaching of corroding pipes
the constant drip drip drip
gnawing at your very infrastructure
increasingly louder the longer it goes on
it’s the days and days painfully anticipating
how high the water will go
your brain like cheesecloth
as rain seeps through the roof
incessant crying, jolting phone alarms
eight tornadoes yesterday fifteen tonight
a subterranean machine-like thudding
from an earth in constant turmoil
by daybreak your heavy eyelids
don’t know if its dusk or dawn
you awake with drunken fatigue
to find the crossroads flooded
raging muddy waters disobeying
submerging the stop sign
personal power outages
in the hundreds of thousands
your interior is shifting
on slow motion reel
as you helplessly watch
sofas and armchairs bob through the living room
like an apprentice’s enchanted buckets and mops
hang the pots and pans from the ceiling
place your laptop above the cabinet
save the memories
try to save the memories
mucky brown waters still rising rising
serpents, sharp objects and cesspool shit
now you feel sick
a slow dull sinking pit
in your leaky leaky gut
so much water
and none of it drinkable
for clarity, purity
can disinfect the piles of Legos
but the books are all soggy, bloated
that gunk will never come out
of Daddy’s silken ties
dump the rotting refrigerator contents
all that stuff from Costco’s last run
tear it down to the studs
a flooded house can never be sold
straining to breathe
your chest feels pressed
by stacks of sandbags
trapped beneath fifty-one inches
in this city turned to inland lake
there aren’t enough resources
for this millennial flood
deploy the Naval warships
you’re normally resilient
good at keeping those flood gates closed
but the dam spilled over for the first time ever
now paralyzed by your helplessness
in this time of crisis
you wish you could have been a better protector
how do you even get out, onto the roof
to wave your arms for rescue?
you left the axe, the ladder
in the garage
float the kids out on an air mattress
carry the baby over your head
don’t look the dog in the eyes
as you leave him behind
“out of calamity… chaos
you find what people are made of”
God’s love still shines
through a stranger’s smile
as he hands you a dry pair of socks
fresh bottled water
somewhere in a parallel life
it’s sunny and seventy-five degrees
Next, we have a long-time contributor, the New York-based poet and eco-activist Jeffrey Cyphers Wright.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
To think, that you cannot do anything
— Eye witness
Hurricane Harvey drives a stake through
the heart of the petro-chemical industry.
Sets new continental record rainfall of 51”.
Brazos River, 59 feet above normal.
The San Bernard continues to rise.
Buffalo Bayou in the overspill path.
One levee has been breached
and residents need to get out now.
Hang a sheet in the window for rescue.
Devastation is a harsh teacher.
Did someone say “Carbon Tax?”
“It’s only just begun.” Plant a tree today,
O Americans, in your jewelbox yards.
Global warming’s come home to spawn.
Larry Thacker, another long-time contributor for our newpaper, shared how this natural disaster has affected his sense of the American Dream.
My American Dream
floats beside the chilled bodies still hooked to IVs
and resting in wheelchairs half-covered by dark waters,
smells of “mostly harmless” flood-induced
chemical explosions in the middle of the night,
is the awful mystery of fading submerged headlights
too far to investigate before morning,
is the impossible choice of leaving
and the impossible choice of staying,
is the draining sound of swamp
before the arrival of heavy equipment,
the thousand miles of molding, water-logged things
lining the streets as piled representations of lives,
sinks like hope, but also floats like hope.
Last, but not least, comes a cathartic prayer from a new poet-journalist to Poets Reading the News, Megan Collins.
Prayer for Houston
And if we can’t be the land,
soft and dry beneath their feet,
let us be a bridge, let our bodies
be the planks they step across,
let our linked arms be stronger
than any cables could be.
And if we can’t be a bridge,
let us be the air, let our breath
become theirs, let us fill them up
so their lungs don’t hurt like hearts.
And if we can’t be the air,
let us be the clouds, let our mouths
hold in the rain, let us swallow it down
until the soil knows thirst again.
And if we can’t be the clouds,
let us be the light, let our veins
become wires, let us blaze
each bulb with our electric blood.
And if we can’t be the light —
or clouds or air or bridge or land —
let us be the water itself. The flood.
Let us float them home on our backs,
then recede into pools, into puddles,
into dew dissolved by sun.
If you haven’t heard about Poets Reading the News before, check them out for more thoughtful and poetic reactions to current events.