Literary Hook: ‘After the Tornado Sky’: Independence Day storm of 2003

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

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 bi-polar 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 2003, 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.

Here is a poem I wrote the week after the Independence Day storm a few years ago. 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. Now, it is called a micro burst.

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 battlefield, 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, smaller than a quarter,
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 has published about 300 poems in 70 journals and anthologies. An interview with her appears in the 2008 Poet’s Market. She is available for mentoring through Jane’s Stories Foundation. Part of her mentoring is suggesting possible journals. Her books include Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity (Wind Publishing, Kentucky), The Red Lacquer Room (Chiron Publishing, Kansas), The Tenderness of Memory (Plainview Press, Texas), and Slow Miracle (Lakeshore Publishing, Illinois).

From the July 28-Aug 3, 2010 issue

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