Dec 032012
Going to view the storm damage--
On the doorknob,
A single evergreen leaf.
Stepping outside....
After the hurricane, only the grass
Looks the same.

It turns out, just by taking a few steps beyond my door there was no end to the incidents and adventures available in my own neighborhood. Going down one street, trees had been felled by a troop of invisible lumberjacks, holding their deep roots up for the most minute inspection as if they were being robbed of their underpants. Getting near a big evergreen that had gone over, peeling back as it had fallen a sinuous line of sod along the driveway’s asphalt edge like foil peeled back to reveal a meaty lasagna, the overwhelming smell was not of mud, despite the wet (nor of lasagna, despite the image)–the smell was of fresh dry loam and mossy roots–a sunny day on a broad fairway and a clear shot to a golden layup. I was pinged back to warm June possibilities–and the busy nest of maggoty worms (or whatever they were exactly) seemed distressed to be so turned out of their summer home–and on such a prosaically rainy day too!

After the storm's destruction,
My neighbor looks out from his doorway
Holding a big broom.
Finicky seagulls
Pillage bins of spoiled meat,
Discarding the lesser cuts.
This reminds me of a haiku by Joso, to wit:
Among blossoming cherries
A woodpecker pecks--
Hunting for deadwood.
The long wooden fence
Torn open by the storm--
Must've been a gate
In another life.
Through a crack in the fence
--A new shoot
Of green laurel.

Crossing into Keyport, I stopped at the local WaWa, the only food outlet for miles with a generator, which allowed them to open their doors that day–cash only. The only line was for coffee, caffeine being the mental health drug of choice among adult Americans. And the line snaked through the whole building and out the door. Regular or decaffeinated? The theological debate in the line was fierce.

Waiting for hot coffee
A hundred pairs of muddy shoes
Face one way.
People pulled
To the WaWa, the wifi, the caffeine,
And each other--
Black bees on a crowded sunflower.

It was in this line that I got my first dose of stories. A few shore residents had seen the actual storm surge make landfall, a green tyrant thirty feet tall, wearing a crown of white foamy thorns. Tony, a naturalized American from Costa Rica, had watched from his second story apartment window as the “tsunami” poured though, pushing boats with abandon and hitting the bay side of Ye Olde Cottage Inne, waiting for a beat of four seconds, and then bursting from the far side by the road, spilling the guts of the place out like mouthwash filled with dinner detritus, and leaving the once grand facade smiling toothlessly at the town like an idiot cousin. There were a dozen or more stories, all told with a survivor’s relish, and the hot expectation of a daily fix of coffee. When I stumbled through town a short while later, I saw what was left of the Inne; I knew I was getting close by the small flotilla of French onion soup bowls that had been sent out nearly half a mile in every direction from the destruction. Picking one of dozens up, it was still dry on the inside, and muddy on the bottom.

Where the weak reed rebounded
A dragonfly hesitates--
After the hurricane.
Kids touch the tacky sap--
Counting aloud the cut-open rings
Of hurricane trees.
Mist on the sea--
Just where the hurricane came in,
Storks float home.
Bright orange safety jackets
Move over the wreckage in Keyport--
I feel I am helping.

Crossing back out of Keyport, with acres of bay-blasted wreckage behind me (and acres of wind-wrestled wreckage before), I bumped into a reporter for the Star Ledger in front of Bob’s Hot Dog House. Bob’s was squished flat as a runcible tophat–only the faded red painting of a hot dog survived as the fecund marshland unrolled behind the flattened trailer. We kibitzed about the whole area, and she gave me some good details about what had happened in other areas of New Jersey, where the newspaper had sent out its fleet of note-taking snoops.

A reporter on the road
Lifts stories from the locals,
Shaking gloved hands as she goes.
The hurricane crow
Darts brilliantly about--
Dodging raindrops!
In the burnt-out house
--Swung wide open--
A perfect red door.
Through the flood-busted churchdoor
...A lost frog.
The Long Branch beach--
An ice cream sandwich
Licked clean out!
Ribbon-painted boats,
Piled like discarded kites
Drawn by a single string.
Storm-tossed boats
Jump playfully as dolphins--
Over the bridge.
Loud out of nowhere--
On top of an overturned boat,
A wild sparrow!
Their sails like moth-wings,
Little boats pile up overnight--
Attracted by the full moon!

Later in the day, as I toured a tree-decimated neighborhood littered with windfall and tangles of powerlines like the discarded ribbons from Christmas packages, I was able to take a surprisingly comfortable sunshine-nap in the topmost boughs of a downed evergreen tree. When I woke up from my doze, I discovered that I had been joined by a stray cat curled up near my feet. Good news always finds a friend, as they say.

After so much hurricane worry--
Sleep seeps in anyway, at noon,
Under my eyelids.
Following the disaster,
Muddy footprints track back
To my doorstep.
Broken spines,
These chainsawed cherrytrees--
Bones of the hurricane.
Whole streets, houses too,
Painted very minutely
With mud brushes.
All this mud!
And still no butterfly
....Nope....Not yet.
*    *    *    *
The refreshing cool
Of the water coming in
Washes the feet
Of the water going out.

The poem above and the poem below go together. Ransetsu takes the common conceit that “all things change,” and shows that these changes can be accepted with grace, with washing the feet of the new thing by the old thing; I think of a combo retirement-baptism party. In Ransetsu’s verse, both the thing coming and the thing going are water–again the common conceit that “all things are one thing.” I think his would be a great poem to carve at the cool water intake of a nuclear plant. The second poem plays with a similar element of graceful acceptance of the changes the hurricane has made.

Taking careful pains to wash
Hurricane tchotchkes in a puddle,
I place them back in the mud.
Clearing the debris--
Children hold fallen shingles
And look up.
Still there--
Under a storm-tossed shingle--
The dewy grass.
Grateful enough to make it through,
The whole sky looks
Like one color.
Every town window reflects
A world at sunset--
Walking home at sunset,
The ruined town turns gold a moment
As the wind dies.
Eh, not much scarier
Than dying--
This gigantic storm.

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