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Poem Written During and After Hurricane Sandy

 

      Poem Written During and After Hurricane Sandy

               And you know that Tilt-a-Whirl down on the south
                    beach
drag?
               I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
               And it kept me spinnin’, they didn’t think I’d ever get off
                         –Bruce Springsteen, 4th of July,
                                Asbury Park (Sandy)

The Hudson winds are blowing into our window panes.
It seems inevitable one of them will crack.
CNN reports the river has begun to overflow
and Hoboken’s mayor on TV is cautioning a rolling flood.

It is never the right time to go through a super-storm.
These chronic Lyme disease days aren’t a good time for me.
My 90-year-old parents have just moved into assisted living
and it ain’t the best time for my dad’s swollen feet either.

We’ve known for weeks that at least one super-storm was coming—
the every-four-years crush known as a presidential election.
As Hurricane Sandy continues to build its bullying strength
I am a wishful atheist hoping, but not praying, for only minor harm.

The power in our apartment begins to fizz and flicker, going dark
for two or three minutes, then back to the light. My Holocaust-survivor,
civil-servant mom seems to have advanced memory loss, and if this
night proves tragic, she has earned the right to let go of this one.

It looks like there is an almost even chance that coreless Romney
will win. Although it is true Obama, on so many issues, has been a huge
centrist disappointment—we know, after New Orleans,
that natural or human-made disasters can always get worse.

And yet so many around the world struggle daily against the odds,
hoping the swirling winds will pause even for a decade or two.
But our lights have just gone out for the night
and it is not happy news that is expected to arrive in the morning.

We are back into the midnight meditations of the radio era—
no AC electricity, phone, heat, or television in our apartment.
And yet the radio newscasters continually tell us
to check their websites for absolutely critical news updates.

Since we have no internet access, Vivian and I go to sleep,
fearing a string of ominous Jeopardy answers
for the coming days. The questions include: how bad, and for whom?
And how long before the necessary help will arrive?

At sunrise, we are among millions waking early without power
but we are also among the lucky ones,
living in a fifth floor apartment that has not flooded nor thundered
     away,
as my friend Danny calls with three feet of water sitting in his
     basement.

Radio reports describe deep floods throughout our mile-square
     Hoboken
and along most New Jersey and New York City shore lines. With
     increased
chills that could be from either a cold apartment or my Lyme disease,
I repeat to myself the mantra that I am among the lucky ones.

How ironic that they have named the hurricane that hit landfall
at the Jersey shore after a well-known song
by the state’s best songwriter, Bruce Springsteen—and the radio
says most of the Jersey shore’s popular boardwalks have been
     obliterated.

Atlantic City, Cape May, Ocean Grove, Belmar, Long Island,
Staten Island, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Rockaway Beach,
tree-tangled suburbs, the entire island of Manhattan below
     34th Street—
so many communities phoning bone-breaking distress into the radio.

There are unsafe drinking-water warnings for many Jersey towns.
Which ones? Again, the damn radio says to check government websites
whose online addresses I don’t even bother to write in my notebook.
I hope the quarts of bottled water I have bought will be enough.

The telephone landlines are down and cell phones barely work.
But I get through by cell phone to my mom and dad, who have also
survived the night. They have no power either, but the Senior Center’s
kitchen has a generator and decent-tasting meals.

On the radio, elected officials from New York and New Jersey
are congratulating each other for having kept their eyes open.
A Republican governor is even thanking a Democratic president,
while millions wonder how that will translate on the wet ground.

It does seem clear that Obama’s emergency response teams
are far out-performing the same offices when they were run by Bush.
National Guard rescuers have already arrived in Hoboken, but it is
difficult to imagine early applause lines will reach the hidden corners.

Two days after the storm, I get a newspaper and see my first pictures.
The devastation is unbelievable in sections of New Jersey and NYC
that I have never even heard of, like Hamilton Beach.
It seems neither FEMA nor the Red Cross has heard of them either.

On Day One after the hurricane, nine out of my ten cell-phone attempts
resulted in the recording: “we are unable to complete your call.”
Two days after the super-storm, the message has evolved:
“we are unable to help you with anything.”

WCBS radio reports that fire has burned down over 100 homes
in Breezy Point, Queens. A woman in Staten Island complains loudly
over the radio about the lack of government help. In some cases,
that kind of media coverage seems to be what is needed to get help.

Near one shoreline, an intruder sailboat has pushed through a building’s
front door, a picture right out of a Dali painting or Breton poem.
Some car lines for gasoline are reportedly over eight hours long—
even Beckett wouldn’t have expected so much patience from his
     audience.

On Election Day, where will all the displaced people vote?
Whose half-broken computers will count the final tally?
Vivian points out even bluebirds have been displaced. Internet rumors
say Romney’s family owns some of Ohio’s swing-state voting machines.

Crushed by falling suburban trees, electrocuted by downed power lines,
drowned on second floors of century-old shore cottages, swept by
     full-moon tides
into pitch-black ocean depths, over 110 people have died these last few
     days,
and tens of thousands have permanently lost their homes.

A woman from Rockaway Beach calls Hurricane Sandy a mini-Katrina
and there is more talk than ever in the mainstream media
about climate change. Why wasn’t our era’s most pressing
life-or-death issue even mentioned in the three presidential debates?

With boardwalk rides hurled into the ocean or onto the streets,
who is around to bust Springsteen’s Asbury Park fortune-tellers now?
Stepping back, it can seem amazing that humans have any electricity
     at all,
and yet post-disaster restoration is almost always frustratingly slow.

That the presidential election takes place while millions are still
     suffering
seems more surreal than a hydrogen jukebox. And yet Obama’s
nail-nibbling victory, called at 11:18 Tuesday night, brings a big sigh
     of relief.
In his acceptance speech, he even mentions global warming first time
     in years.

But whether the President will push for real environmental policy
     change
or tackle poverty may take months or years to decipher. Meanwhile,
     other good
news: the economic-justice challenger, Elizabeth Warren, has won;
     as have
state ballot initiatives on gay marriage equality and the legalization
     of pot.

It is heartwarming that the progressive human heart will continue
     to beat—
until it stops, at the end of a long exhilarating life,
or in the sudden crash of falling oaks. People work tirelessly
for a lifetime simply to increase their chances.

At the end of the day, the Universe usually rolls over its animals,
whether small, mid-sized, or dinosaurian. Nature almost always
wins—even if it takes a few hefty nicks and bruises along the way.
But even Nature must face the risk of another Big Bang.

When the Universe is finally threatened by a midnight storm,
I hope it won’t come back to me looking for sympathy.
Too many around the world are still without food or shelter; and my
     family,
friends, and I have seen and felt more than enough over the last
     90 years.

In my early twenties, I used to run games on the Wildwood boardwalk,
where the roller coaster is now somewhere floating in the sea.
If I can ever beat this Lyme disease, I’m going to try
swimming to one of the more stable seats on that ride.

Folks have mainly survived these recent days by neighbors helping
neighbors—taking in friends, setting up spontaneous soup kitchens,
offering free cell-phone charging sites, portable generators sent where
     needed,
groups of young people clearing out sharp and moldy debris.

If there are still any crazy oil-politicians who deny climate change,
I will soon have a new hurricane to sell them. While solar, wind,
and geothermal power will not by themselves rebuild broken homes,
the next 90 years may depend on making new & kinder scientific
     friends.

 

Eliot Katz is the author of seven books of poetry, including Unlocking the Exits, and Love, War, Fire, Wind: Looking Out from North America’s Skull, a collaboration with the artist William T. Ayton. He was a cofounder of the long-running literary journal, Long Shot, and also a coeditor of Poems for the Nation, a collection of political poems compiled by the late poet, Allen Ginsberg. He has two short prose ebooks that have just been published in early 2013—Three Radical Poets: Tributes for Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Adrienne Rich ; and The Moonlight of Home and Other Stories of Truth and Fiction. The poetry editor of Logos, Katz has worked for many years as an activist for a wide range of peace and social-justice causes

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