Literary Hook: Capturing the feel of a storm

Today, the weather is gorgeous: bright blue skies, sun, not too hot, not too cold, but just right…Right, Goldilocks? But here in the stateline area, we have had bipolar weather: weeks of perfect days, then wham! Torrential downpour, monsoons, floods. If I were a betting person, I would say global warming is in the mix. Even if I didn’t know for sure, I’d say better to be cautious than to be sorry with so much at stake.

In all the years I have lived in Rockford, I don’t recall so much extreme weather. About a year ago for Labor Day, we had terrible floods and rain. This year, they came earlier. A few years before, we had a freak storm the night of Independence Day. Perhaps as the climate continues its dance of change, we will have a major storm for every season—except Christmas, which will be warm and balmy.

Here is a poem I wrote the week after the Independence Day storm. I remember hearing something like a train roaring through the back yard. I looked out to see a hanging basket of fuschia swinging with full force like a metronome gone berserk. The huge locust in the front yard lost a limb, which fortunately fell to the ground instead of on our house.I thought we’d had a tornado, but it was more like an inland hurricane. We called it a tornado sky, for lack of a better term.

After the Tornado Sky

Wind sheer,

ferocious lightning cracking trunks of old maples,

slashing branches from honey locust trees,

ripping large pines right from their roots,

freezing clocks at 4:25 a.m.

Dawn after the Tornado Sky.

First the birds cried tentatively.

For a long while squirrels didn’t show their faces,

I feared they might have perished,

nests toppling with 100-mile-an-hour winds

that roared through the city like bombers.

All morning the bird calls grew stronger.

I imagined they cried, “Where are you?”

“I’m over here. Here. Here.”

The scrappy crows were loudest and tenacious,

their feathers iridescent as they poked

through soggy grass. The sparrows, too,

found their way back to the feeders.

A red hawk refugee

from Sinnissippi Park, where pummeled trees lay

like soldiers on a battlefields, landed on a shepherd’s hook.

Where was the ruby-throated hummingbird

who had befriended me?

My sweet, little garden companion, feeding

at her favorite scarlet bergamot throughout the day.

I wondered how her nest, the size of a penny,

woven from cobwebs, and the twin eggs

as tiny as Tic Tac mints, met the storm.

I wondered where all the nesting creatures went,

and my heart filled like a storm cloud

needing to burst.

The hummingbird returned, early evening.

She saw me at the window, rose up,

a micro-helicopter near my face. I like to think she said,

“I’m here. We made it.”

Though I haven’t seen the flicker, the chickadees and purple finches are landing on the tilted lilacs and ragged yellow pine. Sometimes a streak of yellow signals a goldfinch by the tender sunflower shoots. A catbird meows somewhere in a thicket of conifers. The squirrels walk on telephone wires

like trapeze artists without balancing poles.

(This poem was published in Who Walks Among the Trees With Charity, Wind Publications. With gratitude to Charlie Hughes, publisher.)

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

from the Sept. 12 – 18, 2007, issue

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