Literary Hook: Poem remembering Rockford’s July 2003 ‘Tornado Sky’

Christine Swanberg
Christine Swanberg

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

Today, the weather is pleasant — partly cloudy skies, not too hot, not too cold, but just right … right, Goldilocks? But here in the state line 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. Eleven years ago, we had a freak storm the night of Independence Day. After the long winter of 2014, it’s possible that climate continues its dance of change with fickle and ferocious bouts of weather.

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 fuchsia 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 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, smaller than a quarter,

woven from cobwebs, and the twin eggs

as tiny as tick-tack 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. She received the Lawrence E. Gloyd Community Impact Award at the 2012 Rockford Area Arts Council State of the Arts Awards.

From the May 21-27, 2014, issue

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