© 2016 Barbara Grace Lake
This poem is the undertaking of many years. I have added, deleted, exchanged, and hopefully made better. It still contains many purely poetic errors. At this point, they will remain. I have done my best.
Part I, The Beginning*
Off arctic wastes a blasting current drove
Across the Steppes, where Gobi tribesmen seize
Rude cover in their tents to shiver neath
Cold skins and bedding, daring not to breathe
The deadly air, untended sheep let rove,
Their herdsmen herding warmth against the freeze
A savage, numbing chill through mountain fast,
Unleashed as Mongol hordes, the polar force
Descended without pity, taking life
From those alone, unsheltered from its knife
Until the gale, diminished, calmly passed
Into the China Sea, southeast its course.
Though milder, sea-moist winds relentlessly
Move forward, driving tropic atmosphere
Into retreat; they probe an outer break
To rush beneath as showers in its wake
Then fall unheeded by a silent sea.
Yet one old sailor holds uneasy fear.
He asks if the barometer is down;
He licks a finger, holds it in the air
That seems too swollen, menacing, unstill,
A pot before the boil, but quiet still.
Near thirty years on ships at sea, a frown,
Accepting fate, his life–or death is there.
And steadily, as heavy currents slow,
Opposing pressures crown a small atoll
So insignificant, a pebble met,
Unlikeliest in all the sea to set
A hindrance to impede its massive flow.
Yet on this islet nascent eddies roll.
The ship sailed on. Their weather problems ceased.
Two days unloading cargo in Taiwan.
With scheduled ports for inter-island trade:
The Carolinas, Truk, five harbors made.
En route northwest again, they meet the beast,
Before the infant, now its dreadful spawn.
Part II, Fury at Sea
The air no longer yielding, presses back,
Flows up, compressing, angry skies are torn
As lightning blasted winds increase to squalls
In fervor swell the seas to crushing walls
The hapless ship is pounded without slack,
First sacrifice as hurricane is born.
Her wireman prays before they split apart
Transmitting signals pleading any aid
In fear for threatened pathway islands sends
“Alert! High winds and seas, seek high defends,”
To ships: “Find shelter; safer bearing chart.”
Thus emptied ocean feels the demon’s blade.
With talons sharp, the cursing monster screams,
Its fury razing islands in its path,
Grown self-sustaining gaining range and speed,
A gyral frenzy aimed in rampant greed,
To ravage peaceful isles of sun-filled dreams
Laid waste before a cruelly mindless wrath.
On one such isle the weather station drum
Is perched upon an outrock that defends
A sheltered bay; the roadway over land
Near gone, impassable with rocks and sand,
So disconnects a native village from
The port on which seafaring trade depends
And where the ferries to the outrock turn
To bring equipment, food across the bay,
Sometimes an untried operator comes
To man the station, check the weather drums.
He came the day before; in time to learn
A massive hurricane would hit next day.
And as the word was passed from points ahead
The panicked operator signals clear;
Runs out to board the ferry for the main,
Unreasoning runs back securing chain;
The tower, falling on hard rock, instead
Falls on the man, his cry no human hears.
The ferry master calls “On deck, all board.
We wait no longer or we’re in the rocks.”
He loudly cursed the man he’d left ashore,
“He didn’t have to!–sea whelp of a whore!”
Still cursing, slipped the anchor, engine roared,
It sputters, roars, moves off in jolting shocks
Mid slamming waves across the boiling bay.
The helmsman fought each time the ferry yawed
To keep her straight, and then the engine died.
The dock looms dead ahead! They strike its side!
Some make the beach; the captain falls and lay
Unfeeling, choking, sobbing, “Oh my God!”
Upon the isle the ferryman returned
His broken craft, the storm yet further bore
Into the town, it tore, uprooted trees
To smash a wall left standing; hammering seas
In waves on riven harbor wreckage churned;
The rains through undefending windows pour.
Within the village, equaling its wrath,
An ancient, crippled hag hurled blind abuse
Against her son, the father of her joy.
She shrilled, “Are you a man? He’s there. My boy.”
She clutched him, said, “I see him on the path.”
“The tree. He clings. The wind will tear him loose.”
Tormented out of fear, the harried man,
With knife in hand first cuts a length of rope
Then pulls to free it from the upward brace
That ties the thatch and corner beam in place.
In fearful dread, into the storm he ran–
His son clings to a tree upon the slope.
He wraps the cord twice round the boy, the tree
Himself; he fights for leverage to brace
Into so that the ropes might hold the force
He screams against the wind; his voice is hoarse.
Oh God, he’s losing, ropes are pulling free!
Then ancient hands pull tight the knot in place.
When finally the storm abates, the pair
Come home to find their Tutu in the spot
She’d fallen, where the corner rope was tied
To hold the beam that dropped, and where she died,
Still clutching in her hands, held as in prayer,
A cord in which she’d pulled so tight a knot.
The village, ruined, emptied, all had quit
To look for safety high in hillside caves
One mother doubled over, pack entwined
Pulls at her screaming child-they lag behind
Too slow-a tree before them topples, splits.
They creep beneath for shelter–or for graves.
Deserting lands left bleeding in a brew
Of carnage, death, the rapist lusting more
Can find no victim, finds above a bare
Expanse of ocean high immobile air;
The fury, stalled in motion, splits in two
One fades, its sister strikes a distant shore.
Part III, The Last Stand
It came from far beyond the west and raged
On rock and old man pier with whom I stand
As if to buckle both in one descent
The man and sea worn ribs, its fury sent
To crash, recede and crash; each thrusting gauged
Against the strength of pilings, man and sand.
The crusty skeleton must prove or fail
His heavy timbers shaken with each burst
Of smashing waves and boulders; driftwood torn
From fallen trees, their sandy rootage shorn
By sea erosion, thrown as iron mail
Against old props, withstanding all the worst.
Endangered more, the house beside the pier,
No more than clapboard, patched in every cut;
Device of lath and nail to serve as deck
For selling bait and daily limits check;
In fighting for his home, old man makes clear
“You cannot have my house–I built this hut!”
A jagged flare reveals it standing still,
Awash with foam, but mainly whole and sound;
While high upon a cliff, those on the brink
To watch the wharf’s unfolding drama, shrink
In fright at flaming brands above their hill;
Ensuing thunder rocks the sodden ground.
Unaided, north around the bend, a crew,
Wet, cold and sweating, labors through the night
To pile their hope of safety on the lee
Protecting delta farmlands from the sea.
A breach means crop disaster for those few
Whose lives depend upon a seawall’s height.
The foreman, “Dammit! Get those bags in place!”
“If this don’t hold, we lose it all to mud!”
“It’s fucking through!” a novice wails in fear,
“Ain’t never seen no storm like this one here!”
With aching, weary limbs the workers brace
And swear until they hold the rising flood.
The town was warned, its citizens for days
Repeated what the weather men forecast.
No hurricane will hit; the winds abate.
They talk of little else, how long the spate
Will last, of last year’s storm–the traffic maze
They spoke of how their city might hold fast.
A lawyer saw his secretary nod
“I’m sorry, didn’t think it was so late.
I’ll drive you home. The rain is pouring down.”–
As several couples left a bar uptown
Got in their cars, one driving north on Broad
Ten minutes and they’d change to Ninety Eight
Old “Highland Road” stretched east toward the lakes.–
The lawyer ill, “perhaps he’s catching cold.”
He dropped his passenger, turned up the heat
Continued east for home, three thousand feet –
The couple race the corner – hit their brakes
skid sideways, slam the eastbound car and roll.
Rain/sleet engulfed police and medics as
They cut through steel to get the victims out,
Each carried on a stretcher; one is dead –
And through the urgent race the others bled;
A shrieking siren pulsing red/topaz,
Enclose the weekend couple’s grim redoubt.
A cozy family at home, their child
Plays safely in the hall; an angry mass
Of swirling cloud seems darker than the rest;
A sudden funnel shape swoops down the crest
The house and hallway splinter, and the child,
The child is buried under walls and glass.
The storm moves on against high rigid peaks
Unmoving, they absorb its final roar.
And of itself the brute lays down a shroud
Of icy white then drifts apart in cloud.
For melting floods another season speaks
This demon’s fury’s spent. It is no more.
Part IV, Aftermath
We started back in rhythm with the earth
Our fear is past, resolve and sorrow next.
We measure damages; a town bereft
We bury loved ones, miss those friends who left.
Amid the rubble, miracle rebirth
Just one small leaf, a page of living text.
Returning to his home, one father sees
Uprooted trees across his shattered eave
And shards of roofing thick on muddy floor
In mockery a swing beside the door
Its hinges broken rocks with every breeze
A crumpled doll his child will not retrieve
His wife beside him, lines across her brow
Picks up the doll, unmindful of the dirt
In time a child will swing and love the doll
In time a child will scamper down the hall
In time their memories will dim–not now
Too soon the loss–too soon the tearing hurt.
With pumps still on, a farmer drives uptown
To hire the men he’d need to till his land
When asked about another flood, what then
He scratched his head, “I guess I’d build again.”
And Old Man Pier, with concentrated frown
With nails and plaster worked to patch his stand.
And everywhere the storm broke lives, new life
Takes shape, as if the earth produced the will
To carry on. Both homes and lives rebuilt;
A man, found wanting, has no need for guilt
If down he’ll claim defeat, if not, the strife
Of living even with its hardships still.
As man is limited, if by design
Or whim, caprice in sculpting, rendered live,
Unable to defend against the course
Of raging nature if the titan force
Does not a portion of its strength resign,
Yet puny, undeserving, we survive.
Part V, Epilogue
From arctic wastes a blasting current drove
Across the Steppes, the Gobi, down the plain
Of China, as in centuries before
Preceding names of places, long before
The race of man evolved subhuman, strove
To stand or speak, or claim his own domain.
This time, perhaps, the gale will meet no stand
Of tropic air. A breeze might only rove
In innocence or drift across a blend
Of sea and sky until its final end.
This time no hurricane will scar the land
* * *
Off arctic wastes a blasting current drove.
Credit is given to George R. Stewart for his book Storm from which the basic idea for this poem and, especially, from which the locales, wind directions, etc. for “Part I, The Beginning” were derived.