Dec 032012
Nailing his windows shut,
I help my neighbor
Lift the plywood.
The old blue storm-sign
Gets spray-painted over in red:
Get lost Irene Sandy.

I have never liked to travel, having a dislike of the confusion of new scenes, but I find myself hamstrung at home as well with a deep sense of offended opprobrium at the repetitiousness of the local rituals of the Jersey Shore–beginning with Bar A and ending with the not-quite-naked strip joints like Untouchables that used to line Highway 35 up toward South Amboy.

Too lazy to travel,
I wait for the busy weather
To come knocking.

Despite this distaste for my native land, there are many quiet corners of Monmouth County that I treasure as a field mouse treasures his fluffy burrow. Indeed, it was during the occurrence of Hurricane Sandy (which changed practically the whole coastline of my state) that I first really felt the impermanence of even the big communal things that everyone is always shoving in your face–the facile fun of shore amusement parks, or the desirability of certain high-class/high-cost views of the Atlantic Ocean you can get from Rumson or Deal townships.

From the old boardwalk,
I take a last look at the sea
Before it changes.

My second-story garden hut contains books, some plants, and myself. I dragged the biggest plant inside–a palmtree that squats with his green mustachelike leaves poking over the balcony railing–making my knees creak unexpectedly.

Watering plants
With a pointy watering can
Before the hurricane.
Heavy with watering,
I drag the big palmtree in
Out of the rain.

The newscast flickered bright in the dim room. There was a watery holocaust on the way in the form of a Halloween “Frankenstorm” with the improbably friendly name, Sandy. All of the dynamically flowing charts of the globe had blinking red arrows pointing straight to Atlantic City; a weather-woman with perfect features would follow the blinking arrows with an even, smooth, flowing motion of her arm, ending with a cute frown at the camera. I took a long stroll in the unseasonably warm evening air, noting the suddenly colorful fall leaves that had come out in the last week, returned home, did nothing for a few hours, and then went to bed as usual.

Looking out from my condo--
A bird on its slender perch
Looks back.
On the windowsill,
Just before the autumn hurricane hits,
A dead bee.

The next two days went by engaged in work and poetry. I was putting together essays and stray snippets of prose–mostly to amuse myself, but also, more simply, to offer what instruction I had to offer to anyone who thought they might profit from it. An author digs his grave with words many times before he lays down upon his final page, his spine aligned with the book’s spine, Finis printed neatly on the bottom of his left shoe. The news was just as insistent as it had been the week before, with grey pinwheel swirls of the hurricane’s progress crawling across the Caribbean. I made another cup of hot coffee and hunched into my sofa.

So carefully!
My neighbor parks his truck
Under the tree that will crush it.
--So carefully!

My girlfriend wanted to stop by the day before the official start of the hurricane to hang out for a few hours and catch up on what each of our weeks had been like. We laughed a lot and ended up dancing around in my living room singing all the words to “Crocodile Rock” before she got too sleepy to drive home to South Jersey on just one cup of instant coffee.

Somehow the livingroom floor,
Usually so reserved, really enjoyed
Our dancing on it!
Anxious to get home
To catch the hurricane--
A quick kiss,
And no rain-hat!
Hurricane Sandy--
Slowly the house sucks in its breath
Before the guest arrives.

Later that same night an old poet friend dropped in. We stayed up until the moon quit buying us rounds, discussing all aspects of our mutual obsession with poetry. I think the idea of a hurricane reminded us both of how poetry had come upon us when we were young–and rushed though our lives, changing everything.

Before the hurricane,
Up all night laughing and drinking
To poetry!
After our pre-hurricane party
A vulnerable stack of bottles and dishes
Leans in the sink.
There's some Robert Frost poem....
Ah!  My Kindle remembers.

The next day, I woke up painfully late into a breezy overcast day. Leaves on the trees seemed to rustle for attention before falling off onto the still-green lawn. Was I getting anxious? I started pacing around the apartment in my socks, looking under stray objects that had been in the same place on the shelf for years and expecting to see–what exactly?

What else to do?
I count the handy batteries
On the refrigerator shelf.

I spent the afternoon doing many things, eventually. Going to the grocery store, getting a newspaper, writing a few last minute “stay safe” emails to friends I hadn’t called in eons, watching the kids in the neighborhood play and run, answering a mistaken doorbell ring. Owners walk their dogs quickly as the wind picks up.

On my nose,
A first bit of rain distracts me
Out of my thoughts.
Muddy children push
Their wooden boats
Through enlarging puddles.
Just before I pick it up--
A breeze makes Hurricane Sandy's portrait fidget
In the early edition.

“Clean-up in aisle four!” A clerk with a busy look ran down the aisle at the A&P pushing a mop in a wheeled bucket. Just before Hurricane Sandy hit, in the rush of moms to procure H2O for their young ones, a gallon jug of water had been spilled on the tiled floor near the nearly empty shelves. Outside the store, abandoned shopping carts piled up by Subarus as squirrels hurriedly buried a few final winter chestnuts.

Afternoon before the thunder--
For the first time
No Big Wheels roar
In the empty courtyard.
First evening of the hurricane,
The kids are unhappy
Being called in to dinner.

Filling the tub with potential toilet flushes was one ritual of readiness I remembered from childhood. There was always something so big about the hollow sound of drawing cold water into the bath. It seemed such a lot of water, full to the overflow vent, causing waves of coolness to lift off an agitated surface that would eventually calm its streaky brightness into the image of your own face.

Is there any reason other than a hurricane to draw such a cold bath? Even babies and dirty puppies require tepid water. I thought of the gelid end of the doctor’s stethoscope and gave an involuntary shiver as I turned the tap shut. Almost done with my prep list!

Before the hurricane
Even gets here--
A stormy heart.
In the rising wind--
Pages of a book
I can no longer read
Flip idly.
Over the shore
This first night, boardwalk lights
Keep their pink.
Down at the marina
Every guy-line receives
A goodnight tug.
Hearing yet again of Hurricane Sandy,
A small wind licks
The back of my neck.

The shared news of an on-coming storm had both myself and my neighbors chatting much more than usual. The usual recluse in his mashed-down snow cap called out: “You ready, Irish?” Then he cackled and gave a friendly wave without waiting for a reply.

As the hurricane comes on,
I stick my head out the window
And nod to neighbors.
First hurricane evening--
Summer fans twirl idly,
The windows thrown wide!
Windstorm night--
The vertical blinds
Shudder like icicles!
The night gale is rising--
The wind has a sound
Of tearing tinfoil.

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