Greenville, Tusculoosa, Reading, Joplin


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Thanks to Edward Byrne for posting this timely poem at his blog, One Poet's Notes.


Tornado


       I

I think of that one word learned long ago
               on a humid summer night much like tonight,

though only spoken softly by old men,
               their voices wavering with a sense of reverence

or fear. Tornado, they would whisper
               to the children as if to avoid being overheard

betraying a confidence; again and again
               they repeated its three syllables, barely audible

above the torrent of rain, the trembling elms,
               or the rumbling approach of onrushing gusts.


       II

Tornado. I first read its definition in scrawls
               of gnarled branches scattered across lawns,

and in the snarl of live power lines hissing
               like nesting snakes. Its signature was written

in the language of loss—the concrete
               foundation for the town cinema suddenly

uncovered, the warehouse roof removed,
               the twisted twin tracks torn from the trestle

bridge and tossed into the river below,
               the classmate killed by a collapsing water tower.


       III

My sleepy three-year-old mouths tornado,
               this new weather word I have spent the evening

teaching him. But by midnight, wretched
               Midwest winds weaken, their mourning wails

reduced to just a murmur of rustling leaves.
               A bubble of white moon bulges through black

and blue patterns of cloud breaks,
               a vault-like canopy opening over everything

we value, and now my son naps in my lap,
               tired of this term he has not yet gotten to know.


Edward Byrne
from Tidal Air