Dec 032012

Entering The Highlands had a sort of purgatorial air, with police officers standing by road-flares reflected in the still-fresh puddles, waving cars away from a scene that looked like Godzilla had just finished shooting a Tokyo travelogue. We parked some distance from the town and had to make our way downhill toward Sunny’s neighborhood rather carefully. Live power lines still sparked here and there, and many buildings were surrounded with jagged triangles of broken glass from their busted-out windows. The Post Office, I remember particularly, was filled with undelivered bales of soggy junk mail, and the door was bending out of its frame like a playing card bowed between a dealer’s fingers.

The Post Office flooded-out--
Rainbow-finned mail
Noses the bowed glass.

Workers passed through, already handing out MREs (meals ready to eat) to local homeowners whose food supplies had been rendered inedible by flood and mud. Boats tilted on front lawns, geese paddled down the middle of streets; many notable incongruities were on view as we worked our way toward Sunny’s small shotgun-style house located less than 100 feet from the ocean. We went in through her kitchen, and I helped myself to a few perishables out of the fridge while Sunny assessed the situation with her avuncular landlord–an importunately chipper Irishman named Mike.

Even with no power,
Chocolate pudding
Stays chocolaty.
Heading south--
In a conveniently flooded backyard,
Geese float a few hours.
Deep in the overflow,
An overturned birdhouse
Warbles bubbles.
Stoplights out--
The ripped-down street sign
By the overturned trike.
Seems like all the hurricane rains
Have left the Atlantic Ocean
Just as it was.
Where the flood has been,
Mud and destruction.
--An unattended child
Picks her nose.

There was a kind of homely beauty in the slovenliness of the neighborhood–an ugly uncle who lets his toenails grow, but who looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand hello. The people of the town, freed from their usual duties, and taking up new, more urgent tasks, seemed to have more than a few moments of unexpected contemplation foisted upon them–like refugees who notice the delightful fragrance of the pine-tree air freshener in the rescue truck that escapes the notice of the truck driver who hung it from the rearview mirror in the first place. To be a stranger at home is the essence of poetry; and these flooded-out folks found themselves reluctantly rushed into their usual streets which had suddenly taken on the scary characteristics of Dante’s infernal stanzas. Even the birds, having the somewhat officious appearance of housing inspectors, looked twice from the mezzanine of an intact rain-gutter before returning to their storm-struck nests.

From an intact rain-gutter,
Birds eye their storm-beaten nests
Hanging on broken branches.
Returned to her drowned house,
My old friend cries hard tears--
Flood after flood.
Nobody says much--
Carrying the washed-away porch steps
Back to where the porch had been.
Holding a busted broom,
The older lady fits it carefully
Into an overloaded trashcan.
Visiting with my friend--
Cheerfully she points out where
The sea has visited her kitchen!
All across the flooded floor
Galaxies spin and swirl....
--Fresh mud!
You can see here
How this big tree and the power line
Played jump rope!
In the flooded street,
Sewer lids quietly become
Bubbling fountains.

There were many picturesque scenes to be viewed when walking through the newly configured town, the sidewalks squealing under your shoes. Here, a teenage girl pecked quick at her phone, annoyed at her lack of incoming texts. Just across the way from her, and still wild about the hurricane, skinned-kneed kids screamed and stomped in every puddle. Their spirits were as whirly as the leaves blowing down the broken streets. At the occassional functioning filling station, long lines of mendicants stood carrying red gas cans; a whole tiered class system arose between those who tended small electric generators in their basements and those who did not–or could not. Charles Dickens would have understood the social implications of these equations of capability and suffering. It was a most sad case, again, to contemplate in the increasing cold of the late evening–however purely the stars shined down.

The gardener goes by
With his wheelbarrow
Full of shingles!
With a wet broom
We sweep the flotsam
From the car roof.
A tilted hat
Perched atop the rubble--
The roof of a house!
My homeless friend,
After so many dull nights together,
I am finally glad
Of your company.

The next morning after our visit to her muddied and messed-up home, Sunny drove off to storm-battered Staten Island for what turned out to be several unexpected days of work and sleepovers. I kept expecting her back after that first night, and that expectation whetted my sense of isolation, of being cut-off and incommunicado with the others of my world with whom I had formed fragile loyalties.

For the next few unplugged days and overcast nights, only the radio spoke to me. It was, frankly, quite surprising–I was often better informed concerning the status of the overall recovery effort than my few remaining neighbors, who had family and friends stuck in the nearby buildings with whom to talk.

Governor Chris Christie
At the disaster press gaggle,
Yelling encouragements!
Geraldo on the radio
The sirens.
Once again, the moon
Swims over the sea,
Confusing the tiny fish
Hatched during the hurricane.
Clear night after Sandy--
Once again I can feel the moon
Against my skin.
After the disaster....
We shrug
Back into our lives.

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