Poems by Nicol Stavlas

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May Storms

by Nicol Stavlas

From Canary Spring 2013

Nicol lives in Bloomington, Indiana, in the Lower East Fork, White River Watershed.

We have grown used to May rain and to thunder, but these storms are not the ones we have known before.

After the first night of straight line winds we are without power for three days. The electricity comes back on the night of the second storm, and as the sky grumbles we wait for the flicker of light, for the darkness again.

The sirens sound four times before the storm hits our county. We go to the basement and return to our beds again and again. And then it is not the sirens, but the screech of train in the wind and the thick whip and crash of trees gutting into houses that drives us to the basement. We hear the violence, but do not know until the next day that as the wind moves through, it strips tree limbs from their trunks, pulls porches from houses, rips through roofs, splays shingles and debris into the road.

The storm travels northeast, tearing through the old trees in Seminary Park. In the thick stillness of the morning after, I huddle with a gathered band of strangers who snap pictures of city workers trying to manage the tragedy with chainsaws and backhoes. We stand together in the remnants of rain, the under-tree drippings, the fresh smell of storm. Someone says the trees are two hundred years old. I know they were so thick that three of us couldn’t reach arms around them this spring. The roots, un-buried and tipped skyward, are taller than the men who work to cut through them. There are other trees, felled but not uprooted, split at their trunks, stretching sharp wooden fingers to the sky. Someone says the trees were twisted by the winds, shattered. Someone says the storms will come again on Saturday.

The sound of chainsaws cuts through the days and nights of our neighborhood. Now the trees are left in piles- branches and thick wood on the ground- holes in the sky. By early afternoon, the sun is out, the breeze soft again. My daughter, who is not quite two, picks the plastered spit of leaves off of the front of our house and gets underfoot as I drag branches to the road.

We look to the sky. It is just summer again, humid and bright. The strawberries catch in the bit of glinted light that penetrates down beside the shadow of their leaves. Andjoli plucks them up, eats them, dripping juice down her chin. When she’s had her fill she squeezes the berries, wet in her fists, and turns the mush, like an offering, over to the neighbors who gather at the foot of our driveway. I take the sticky mess from her hands while we talk about where to get NOAA radios and batteries with all of the local stores closed, and who has power and freezer space, and if a tornado might follow the same line again, and how climate change comes when it comes home.

As we talk, we stoop to gather branches, piling them at the foot of the driveway, collecting the disaster. We have heard for a long time about climate instability, about the ways our refusal to limit our pollution and consumption will cause changes we cannot live with. We have been told this is coming, and so the storms do not surprise us, really. Still something has changed in how we understand the threat, the promise: we do not have the simplicity of charts and graphs, reports and weather predictions any longer. We cannot follow the spotty path of storms across the Midwest on the weather radar or in national newspaper reports. It is here, instead, in chaos, in our street, in our hands.

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