Poem of the Week | March 16, 2020
Denise Duhamel “Terza Irma”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Terza Irma” by Denise Duhamel!
Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Scald (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009); Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orhisis, 1997). She also has co-authored four collaborative books with Maureen Seaton, the most recent of which is CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). She and Julie Marie Wade co-authored The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019). She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.
–Florida landfall, September 10, 2017
Irma looks like a giant asshole
Angie says of CNN’s graphic.
Or a storm with pink eye, Julie adds, scrol-
ling her newsfeed. Our choices—traffic
jams, gas lines, if we evacuate
as told (our city’s geographic
code puts us in the red zone) or wait
and hope the model moves north or east.
A Home Depot commercial berates
us to buy plywood, water at least.
I fear my windows will blow open—
my lounge chair, my jewelry box bequeathed
to the sea, my soaked body swollen
for days, no medics able to get
to me. We three stare at the ocean
for answers. It is barely upset,
the calm-before-cliché. I call John
and Cindy, who are not ready yet
to make any decision. Count on
us, though, they say, telling me I’ll stay—
or flee—with them. They’re taking in lawn
furniture while I’m hiding away
my Birkenstocks in the dishwasher
because my niece Kate texted to say
it’s a condo’s only true water-
proof space. I drape my brand-new UGG boots
like cups, stack my sandals like saucers.
In my nightmare, which I attribute
to Irma, I’m stuck in a dollhouse
with plastic furniture, plastic fruit,
plastic hairbrush and comb, plastic spouse
I don’t recognize. Four looters climb
my balcony and I’m Minnie Mouse,
squeaky, powerless to stop their crime,
busting open my safe, dollar bills
fluttering as though in elapsed time.
We’ll head north towards Tampa, a no-frills
LaQuinta, but before we embark
we have our chores. The latest models
predict flooding so John and I park
our cars in a garage, the fifth floor
of the Diplomat with its landmark
infinity pool. Though we abhor
paying $60 a day, we
fear storm surges, our perilous shore
washing away. Django and Zoey,
John’s cats, will be escaping with us
so I buy Benadryl. Brave Cindy
will take the wheel. I’ll pack mints, cold cuts,
Coke Zero, apples, the one suitcase
we each allow ourselves. I’m a klutz
but Julie and Debra move with grace,
hauling my TV far away from
the shuttered windows. We’re face-to-face
with unknowing. Julie’s overcome
with a burst of energy, her first
hurricane. Debra and I, alums
of Wilma and others, have rehearsed
our gestures and cues, quotidian
lines. But our terror’s hardly submersed.
Over six million Floridians
evacuate with us, cars squeezing
into lanes, downright amphibian
in their slow crawl. A trailer easing
in front of us lugs three plastic bins
marked “KEEPSAKES,” “KID’S PHOTOS,” and “SLEEPING
BAGS.” I took my laptop, medicine,
and passport, foregoing love letters
and scrapbooks. If I’m forced to begin
again, I’ll have to cope, unfettered
by snapshots, baubles, and magazines.
I try to bargain with homewrecker
Irma, the way I used to obscene-
ly bargain with God. Spare me and I’ll
grasp, once and for all, things are just things
are just things are just things. But meanwhile,
here’s what I’m truly superstitious
about—Irma jumping the turnstile
on September 10th, a malicious
date on previous years’ calendars.
My marriage ending, my capricious
ex’s tentacles, that man-of-war
sting in 2008. My parents’
smash-up in 2003. A scar
from dad’s pacemaker, false assurance
from the doctor in 2001.
Bad things come in threes, but abhorrent
Irma might mean the cycle’s begun
again. What if bad things come in six?
It’s not all about my fraught bank run
to get small bills (since Master Card chips
will be useless in case of power
outages). This storm’s sure to inflict
its cruelest wrath on the poor, cower-
ing in shelters. How grateful I am
for Cindy’s car, this dense rush hour.
Tampa’s now in the cone to be slammed,
so we leave after only one night’s sleep.
The Weather Channel’s grim diagram
keeps shifting. Julie and Angie creep
towards Kentucky where Angie’s sister
will let them stay. Debra and Cliff keep
in touch, texting that a dog sitter
will look after their pooch as they
make their way to Georgia. The Mister
Coffee we drank was weak, but we stay
alert, Cindy’s GPS blood red
with congestion. John makes some headway
soothing the cats. He and I spearhead
the effort to get our next hotel
rooms, googling Augusta, Buckhead,
Decatur. Everyplace booked. Our cell
phone batteries deplete quickly while
our GasBuddy apps bid sad farewell
to empty stations. John and I dial
vacation rentals, leave messages,
text Airbnb’s hosts. Mile by mile
we check Cindy’s gauge. Then a vestige
of hope—a Marathon in Chiefland
has a new fuel supply. Average
wait time, an hour. We join the strand
of cars snaking fields and side streets.
Needing to pee, I walk the grassland,
gas fumes never smelling quite as sweet.
I count one hundred idling cars
before I get to the restroom, meet
another line—humans with sidebar
chats: moms calming kids, dads making jokes
that bomb or not. Their full repertoire
tries to make light of Irma, provokes
a grandma to quote Bombeck: If you
can’t make it better, make them laugh. Bro-
ken locks droop on the stalls. We make do
holding doors closed for the gal in front
in this skittish sorority’s queue.
John and I, still on the absurd hunt
to find a room, can’t help but worry
we’re wasting Cindy’s gas as cars grunt
along for half a mile. Our hurry
back to the highway—thirty minutes.
Zoey and Django meow, scurry
in their carriers, their absolute
fright a reflection of ours. My phone
dings. The condo office distributes
a stern message. You’re now on your own
if you have chosen to stay and can’t
get to a shelter. You’re in the cone’s
direct path. Empty a closet, plant
yourself there when the wind starts to roar.
If your unit floods, help will be scant.
Best to go into the hall, one floor
up, and sit under the cement stairs.
Then John’s ring—the call we’re waiting for.
There’s a luxury house we can share
in lovely Seaside, a tiny slice
of Florida that’s not yet declared
a state of emergency. The price
is outrageous, but we’re desperate.
We agree to head to paradise—
John reads the numbers off his credit
card and Cindy’s GPS reroutes
us. Six more hours until our exit.
Cindy and I order Brussel sprouts
with garlic. Oyster Rockefeller
for John. Finally, a hot meal out
at Shrimp Shack. We check the bestsellers
at Beach Books then head to the ocean.
Everyone is a fortune teller—
predicting this heightened emotion’s
for nothing. Or asserting it’s “end
times” as they apply suntan lotion.
John’s gregarious as he befriends
tourists with bad timing, home owners,
a teenager missing his girlfriend
whose plane was cancelled, this sad loner
who suddenly wants to talk. John’s King
of Chat, a universal donor
for conversing. We stretch our hamstrings—
so much time in the car’s made us stiff—
then head to the house with the porch swing
and pen our fears in journals as if
speaking them would add to the tension
we can’t escape. Lisa texts a GIF,
blown-out umbrellas, her intension
to make me chuckle. She writes, What’s worse?
Irma? Chemo? Her apprehension
comes next with a pic, a Long Beach nurse
tying her headscarf, hubby beside
her. Though the question’s surely perverse,
we agree cancer’s intensified
death-stare wins. David, Tony, Maureen—
other pals with the disease. Wifi
enables me to reach the True Queen
of Collaboration—and why not
start a poem today? In between
laundry loads and CNN crackpots
jostling in the wind, I wait for lines
Maureen sends from Colorado, jot-
ting images I hope to combine
with hers. She’s taking Aromatase
Inhibitors, a strange valentine
from her doctor, treatment’s coup de grace.
I’m writing when two maintenance men
ask me to stand. They need to unlace
the swing from its chains. Where have you been?
they ask. Irma’s moving west. We’ll call
if you must evacuate again.
We wake anxious, but Irma’s landfall
will still be south of us. Tropical
storms in the Panhandle (gusts and squalls)
mean things here close at 3. The seagulls
are gone, no more squawks. The kitties yawn
and lounge. At Target, a comical
Britney Spears t-shirt for John, pull-on
rain boots for Cindy, and a peach dress
for me. We’re out and about, withdrawn
from the Weather Channel, reasses-
sing each Publix plum and chicken leg,
what Cindy will cook. I acquiesce
to her culinary skills, nutmeg
and lemon. Vanilla bean ice cream
for dessert. I text friends who stayed. Gregg,
Rick, the pups and their bungalow seem
okay, but they’re scared. Kacee’s ready
with a canoe. Back inside, livestream-
ing Hollywood, I watch confetti
raindrops giving way to pelts that rock
my neighborhood. Those quaint spaghetti
models we all watched around the clock
have coalesced into a nightmare
scenario. Wolf Blitzer feigns shock
at the waves in Miami’s streets where
building cranes collapse and smash nearby
condos. Windsocks, palm fronds, and threadbare
beach towels weave like kites in the sky.
The bridges are up and highways closed.
Sixteen million people say goodbye
to power and comfort. Adios
lights, cold milk, hot showers. We wonder,
of course, what’s become of our own homes,
while grateful to be away. Thunder
and lightning frighten the cats who dive
behind the suede couch. The bulbs under
the shades blink. Cindy’s in overdrive
turning up the oven to make sure
we have a proper dinner. Just five
more minutes, she says. An epicure,
she pleads with the electricity,
hoping this pricey house can endure
a mean tropical storm. She pretties
the table with candles, a discreet
backup. We toast our chef as if we
were in her own kitchen, safe, complete-
ly at ease. Then the TV’s montage—
houses turned inside out in the Keys.
What’s done is done. I make a barrage
of phone calls anyway—the condo
office, the condo front desk. Garage
security delivers the blow.
“It’s awful,” he says. “There’s a curfew
at 9. And the roads are a shit show.
I’m the only one who made it through
the debris on Ocean Drive.” I ask
him to check my windows, if they blew
out, but he has way too many tasks.
I’ve reached him on his cell. No landlines.
The elevators are down. Not mask-
ing his dismay, he seems genuine
when he advises me not to rush
back. No stores open. No gas. Stop signs
ripped up from the ground, traffic lights crushed
onto A1A, dangling live wires.
His final words—no A/C. I’m flush
with angst or rage, a feelings-crossfire
I can’t quite name. John’s neighbor reports
their yard appears to be a quagmire
of downed branches and mud, but, in short,
their house looks unscathed. Cindy insists
I stay with them, if needed, for support.
We’ve paid for one more night, but resist
remaining despite the stern counsel
of the condo’s worker. We dismiss
it, needing to see inside our dwell-
ings for ourselves as soon as we can.
John finds us two rooms in Jacksonville
whose downtown is flooded. Our game plan
is to stay at a Holiday Inn
Express, right off 95, less than
five hours away. It’s hard to take in
the ripped billboards, ads shredded or gone.
Disaster Relief trucks underpin
what the news tells us—our Babylon
is in trouble. Gasoline tankers,
one after the other. We press on,
Cindy still at the wheel. I thank her
again for her driving, her food prep
expertise. It’s then John remembers
the date, scans the radio that’s pep-
pered with sadness, the reading of names.
I was with Cindy, too, that day, step-
ping in to donate blood for the maimed,
not knowing that morning there were no
survivors, not knowing the war games
to come—the attack, perfect ammo
for Black Water and Halliburton
to make billions, a filthy inflow
of contracts. Wizards behind curtains
manipulating bright Oz’s truth.
Katrina’s FEMA trailers? Certain-
ly someone had a clue. Voting booths,
how we once thought you sacred! But now
sleaze is what we expect. I’m no sleuth
but I think the president will vow
to enrich his friends in the cleanup.
Zoey and Django cry and meow
as though they can read my bottled-up
thoughts. Cindy eases into the lot.
We unload, check in, hungry for sup-
per. The reservation clerk cannot
recommend a place—even the chains
are still boarded up. We take a shot
and go for a short walk, hurricane
shutters on Walmart and CVS.
John spots a long line of people strain-
ing, jockeying to see ahead, gues-
sing if any lo mein will be left.
One Chinese restaurant. More or less
two hours to be served. We are bereft,
unwilling to wait. In the lobby
we gobble Wheat Thins and Swiss, the rest
of our Coke Zero and wasabi
peas. Later, when I can’t sleep, I stare
up at all the heavenly bodies
through the window. There’s a big hole, square
in the middle of my thin facecloth—
a metaphor without much fanfare.
We breathe in the air, a fecund broth
of drowned plants and sea. A mugginess
waves from the driveway, a mix of moth
balls and loam. Cindy and John notice
roof tiles on the grass, but soon rejoice—
their house is dry. Cindy tends the mess
of overturned flowers, her destroyed
garden, while John and I get a Lyft
to the Diplomat, though my Android
can’t get Maps to work. Our driver drifts
down the street while we wave. Cindy’s tank
is empty, and Sam offers makeshift
alternatives—cash. His app is blank,
he explains, as all the cell towers
were hit. No data, just texts. I thank
him with a big tip when I see our
fancy hotel’s orange gate lying
broken in the street. John and I scour
the garage, find a terrifying
coat of sand on our hoods and windshields
but it wipes off. Soon we are flying
down the ramp, toward A1A, peel-
ing out, giddy, not having to pay.
It’s a little pleasure, from left field,
as we honk our goodbyes. I survey
the damage—the uprooted bus stop,
smashed; Le Tub’s blue-grey wooden deck splayed
on the road, ripped from the bay and plopped
ashore; red office chairs turned over,
their wheels spinning, flip flops and crop tops
strewn in a parking lot; street closures
leading to Surf Road. I’m more afraid
each minute to go home. Red Rover,
Red Rover, send Denise over…Made
you look, you dirty crook. I recite
childhood rhymes, trying to barricade
dread as my automatic headlights
brighten my sea-level parking space
swarming with dragonflies, water sprites.
I hoist my suitcase up the stairs, brace
myself as I open the door, slip
on water in the hall, and come face
to face with my books, the white shelves drip-
ping. I pull down Dante—the pages
heavy, wavy as potato chips—
then pat down the walls, trying to gauge
where the leak’s come from—the apartment
above? My ceiling’s dappled with beige
clouds I’m afraid will burst, a descent
of more indoor rain. I make my way
to the condo office, to lament
the havoc, ask for some help. My neigh-
bors are in varied states of panic
and shock, agitated castaways.
I wait in a line with them, manic
for a wet vac, as Joe tells us all
that tiny silver fish—he’s frantic
with disbelief—had the wherewithal
to make it up to his balcony
on the eighteenth floor. “Look at them sprawled—
all dead,” he says, their mortality
caught on his iPhone. They must have been
swirled in tornados, plucked from the sea.
“It’s creeping me out, those shiny fins
trying to swim in the air.” Joe takes
his cell back and, I admit, my skin
is speckled with goosebumps though I’m bak-
ing in the heat. Pete, the handyman,
sops up my floor, despite his backache.
I ask for an industrial fan
to help dry my walls, but Home Depot
and Lowes are sold out. A caravan
of trucks took them sixteen days ago
to aid Texans, victims of Harvey.
I point to my ceiling, what I’m below.
The thermostat reads 90 degrees.
Pete sighs but promises he’ll wet vac
next the apartment right above me.
After he’s gone, I lift the bathmat,
saturated with Irma. My Scott
toilet paper is wet on the rack.
The first piece of art I ever bought
is ruined, water seeping through glass.
The mermaid under the frame is spot-
ted, her tail bubbled and blurred. Alas,
she is like Joe’s balcony-bound fish,
trespassing, or in nature’s trespass.
Kacee lets me borrow fans that swish
the hot air this way and that in hopes
I can dry things in this petri dish
of a condo. She says she is cop-
ing without power, that her windows
provide a slight breeze. Her cantaloupe-
colored canoe leans like a shadow
against her house. I bring a cooler
full of ice to save her food, although
it’s not for consumption. I school her
about the “boil water” alert, my
ice-maker’s poisonous cubes. Rumor
says we’ll get clean water again by
next week. Kacee’s heard about break-ins
and hopes she gets lights back soon. Bad guys
worry me too. Her dogs are shaken.
Cindy asks me to sleep at their house.
John makes us scrambled eggs and bacon.
Cindy brews me iced coffee, wondrous
concoction, hard to find on the road.
She’s such a great host I fail to grouse
about what awaits me, my abode
humbled and damp. Gregorio, sweet
as ever, helps me slide my corrod-
ing shutters open, the metal pleats
dragging, full of sand. The outside light
makes things look worse—the walls, rippled sheets
of clammy blue paint. “It was a sight
I never thought I would see,” he says,
explaining he stayed here with a fright-
ened resident on oxygen. His
phone is full of videos—trees bent
in half, palms snapped; the torrents like fizz
on the lens. “Mrs. Valez’s pent-
house looks like yours, but she is too old
to move anything herself. I meant
to go home,” he says, “but truth be told
I’m glad I stayed.” Though cute, his duplex
is in a dicey neighborhood, bold
drug dealers bolder in the dark, vex-
ing those without streetlights. His alarm
system’s pointless without power. “Heck,
I am an old man now. Those firearms
scare me. Mrs. Valez thinks I’m help-
ing her, but she’s keeping me from harm,
too.” I open the window, smell kelp
and ocean muck before the pane slides
down, almost squashing my hand. I yelp,
then force two yoga blocks, side by side,
under the sash to prop it ajar.
The apartment cools to 85
and the ocean is tranquil, sandbars
like flat-lines of twelve Hollywood Hills
nursing home patients. An NPR
story notes the facility will
most likely be found in neglect, not
calling for ambulances until
it reached 99 degrees. Distraught
workers boiled tap water to hydrate
those in their care, but rooms were so hot
even the staff couldn’t acclimate.
Their A/C was blown out, repair parts
on order. I don’t mean to conflate
their suffering with mine, but I start
to worry. The local reporter
reminds us—no fans left at Walmart,
no bottled water. He adds doctors
caution against physical labor
in temps higher than 80. Martyrs
to clean-up efforts, often neighbors,
wind up in the emergency room.
I decide to change my behavior,
set my alarm for breaks from the broom
and Lysol every two hours to blast
myself with my car’s A/C, the zoom
of frosty air on my face. The vast
tract of the closet is my next chore.
Clothes seem dry, but I am flabbergast-
ed when I reach down to the moist floor,
my slippers saturated, heavy
with water. I am a troubadour
singing of loss, no decent levee,
ringing out my pink Memory Foam
booties. Regret is my melody—
why didn’t I protect them in the chrome
dishwasher along with my good shoes?
I’m rearranging fans so air roams
into the closet when a chartreuse
lizard startles me, darting under
the baseboard. Then a text with the news—
A/C parts still not in. I wonder
how many days it will take to dry
out the condo, Irma’s wet plunder
making my pristine home a pigsty,
mocking my commitment to housework.
John tries to order Chinese, then Thai
but restaurants aren’t open yet. Clerks
at Publix assure him tomorrow
may bring meat and fresh fruit. I perk
up as I drive to my friends, forgo
my malaise at curfew. Scrambled eggs
and bacon again—scrumptious combo.
Beth drags me to the cardroom—bootleg
A/C! There’s a separate unit,
a wall thermostat. I’d always peg-
ged Beth as a good-natured misfit,
a yoga instructor with gray braids.
I thank her for the tip and hoof it
back toward my apartment. “Decades
I’ve lived,” she says, “so I have some clout
with destruction. Our world’s a charade
with spirits on the other side shout-
ing the answers as we pantomime
our pain. Love—that’s what it’s all about.”
She invites herself into my grim-
y apartment and stares at my walls.
“I want you to promise at bedtime
you will bring your pillow down the hall
and join us in the cardroom.” I lie,
say I will. Beth begins her banal
speech about seeing in my mind’s eye
beautiful, restored rooms. Then she hugs
me, saying she will be my ally
these hard weeks. Her Oriental rugs
are mere sponges, worthless now. “You need
to smile, send smiles to your brain.” I mug
as though for a camera, concede
to Beth’s spirituality if
it means she’ll leave. She offers me weed
and I tell her no thanks—allergic.
“Then come to my meditation class
tomorrow,” she says, fetching a spliff
from her pocket. “If you can’t smoke grass
you’re going to need something to calm
the fuck down.” What I need is a mas-
seuse, not a guru. My Tiger Balm
sits in the cabinet. When she goes
I rub some on my shoulders—the dom-
ino effects of its tingle flow
up my neck and down my back. My pink
slippers have dried into lumps. My toes
push against globs; my soles rise and sink
unevenly as though walking though
a pebbled quarry. I throw the crin-
kled mess into the trash, then rescue
what I can in my office. The slosh
of water in my shredder, mildewed
paper scraps, make a swampy goulash.
I flush it down the toilet, then face
the sand dunes under the desk. I wash
the floor, soft mud beneath the bookcase.
I call the insurance adjuster
on my cardroom break. He tells me, “Brace
yourself. We’re all slammed.” In a fluster
of clicking keys and sighs, he informs
me he can come in six weeks. I muster
a thank you, ask him how to prove storm
damage since I hope by October
things will be better, more back to nor-
mal. “Pictures are fine.” His voice, sober,
almost bored. As I hang up, a knock.
A maintenance man with three blowers—
one orange, one yellow, one peacock
blue. Plugged in, they roar, cheerfully stout
mechanical birds on a wet dock.
I tiptoe past the cardroom, Beth tout-
ing bon mots, to see Cindy and John.
At last we get our Chinese takeout.
The “boil water” alert is now gone!
Kacee comes by to do her laundry—
still no power at her house. Head hon-
cho when it comes to all things tech, she
shows me how to create a hot spot
on my phone, then grabs rolls of Brawny,
helps me clean. I feel like a bigshot
filling ice cube trays to supplement
my icemaker—no whining teapot
and steam today. I won’t be content
until I load a Styrofoam cool-
er for Kacee. For hours, she went
to filling stations—ice scarce as fuel.
I want her to have cubes in her Tab
so she can enjoy it. The Whirlpool
sputters off. I hand her Downy fab-
ric softener sheets for the dryer.
Marveling at convenience, we gab
about these First World gadgets, our dire
loss without them. The apocalypse
will not be fun—iffy campfires
no replacement for stoves. Kacee grips
my TV, moves it back to the wall.
She plugs it into the power strip,
and, though the cable’s still down, the small
blue light comes on. No water damage!
Surprised, I drop a can of Lysol
on the kitchen table and manage
to hit my flamingo saltshaker
which rolls to the floor and cracks, ravaged.
The lights flicker, the circuit breaker
adjusting to the extra demands
of the TV with the fans, acres
of wires nestled in walls, looping strands
we take for granted till they go dead.
Kacee has installed an app, firsthand
news, which tells when power will be read-
y to light her street. Forevermore,
my pink flamingo will have no head.
When I arrive home from the drug store
with more cleaning supplies, blowers by
the hundreds fill the hall. At my door,
men in gray jumpsuits. I let in guys
from a firm the condo has employed
to remove water, to try to dry
out the residents’ walls and avoid
mold down the line. They start to rip off
my baseboards—on their part, schadenfreude?—
and drill holes underneath, making troughs
that drip. They fling clothes, purses, and shoes
from closets, a string of Molotov
cocktails. Packing trash bags, I’m confused
but compliant, and label my stuff
with a Sharpie. They take turns perus-
ing ceilings and cabinets. They scuff
the walls wheeling in ten more blowers,
two dehumidifiers that chuff
and whirr. All my cleaning, my rigor,
now seems like a waste. The men explain
their process, which will be much slower
than I’d hoped. If surfaces retain
water into next week, they’ll have to
be torn down. They’ve traveled here from Maine
with their supplies. They don’t have a clue
about where to eat, though the hotel
where they’re staying has breakfast. They’re new
to Florida, sand dollars and shells
they can’t find up north. Though I begrudge
their fun time off, I can’t help but sell
them on my favorite spots. The fudge
at Jimmie’s Chocolates. The ice cream
at Jaxson’s Parlor. I want to nudge
them into liking me. It’s a scheme
so they’ll remember my face, my place,
my splotched drywall. “You’ll enjoy Gulfstream
Park, if you’re into slots or horse rac-
ing,” I say. Then I cry when they leave,
surrounded by chaos, my defaced
rooms. As I am getting on my knees
to pray or clean more—I’m not sure which—
I feel cooling gusts and blasts that weave
down the A/C vent. I check the switch
and rejoice—the thermostat lights up.
It goes down one degree. I feel rich,
lucky, and fish out the Hostess Cup-
cake I purchased with those Clorox Wipes.
I eat what I was saving for sup-
per’s dessert, the cream filling, that stripe
of squiggly frosting that looks like spume.
I wash it down with milk, my windpipe
rebelling. I refuse to resume
my despair even when I’m choking.
I head to the pool, the water womb-
warm and glorious, bodies soaking,
too tired to swim. I learn my tower’s
the only one with fixed A/C. Joking
about it would be cruel. I shower,
shave my legs, and wash my hair outside
at sunset, the sky a sunflower.
It’s irrational, but I decide
I don’t want to cause any more damp-
ness, the condo’s indoor shower’s glid-
ing steam joining with Irma to amp
up the humidity. When I come
in, I eat Grape-Nuts, light a floor lamp—
no stove or overhead lights to drum
up the heat. It’s 81 degrees,
down from 92. The blowers thrum
as the dehumidifiers wheeze.
Though I’ll have to wear earplugs, it’s great
to know I’ll sleep in my own bed, squeeze
my own pillow. Tom sends an update
of his broadside project, asking me
for a short verse. I don’t hesitate:
All my Irma poems wash out to sea.
Insurance adjusters say they’re worth-
less, like my now drenched thrift-store settee.
I remember it’s Ben’s seventh birth-
day and call him in Massachusetts
before his big party. I unearth
my bookbag from the hall cabinet
where I’d swaddled it in Saran Wrap.
FIU has sent multiple texts
that school resumes tomorrow. My lap-
top needs charging. My face needs lotion
and my chapped lips need Blistex, stopgaps
to help me hydrate. The commotion
from the dehumidifiers and
thirteen blowers, I hope, has begun
to dry my walls as much as my hands
and feet. Julie calls to ask me to
see the movie Mother!, an unplanned
outing. Excited, we misconstrue
the YouTube trailer as a thriller
not a horror film. We have no clue
Jennifer Lawrence, cast a killer
after a crowd breaks her baby’s neck,
will play peaceful Mother until her
pristine house, her family, are wrecked.
Is she Mother Earth, Mother Mary,
or both? We go to the Quarterdeck
for fish tacos. “Too cruel, too scary,”
we agree. Javier Bardem played
a mean God, but Julie is wary
of Bible stories. We know manmade
pollutants are the problem. Maybe
Bardem stands for Big Business pervad-
ing our air, our food. The dead baby
might stand for the next generation,
not Jesus on the cross. Doomsday de-
mands a culprit, an allegation
against corporations or sinners—
depending on what TV station
you listen to. We finish dinner,
glad to have some kind of routine back.
I feel like a lottery winner
when I get home and the A/C smacks
my cheek with a cold kiss. It’s made it
to 72 degrees, the black
needle on the thermostat commit-
ting to pre-Irma cool. Was Barden
God in Mother! or just a poet?
Back to work. I’m supposed to pardon
any absences, but workshop has
perfect attendance. Maybe boredom
in their houses brings students to class
where there are outlets to charge their phones
and tablets. True, they miss the pizzazz
of electricity, many homes
still without power, but they also
say they crave normalcy. As cyclones
ripped through their neighborhoods, as autos
flooded and windows shook, my students
wrote leaky-roof odes with bravado.
The office next to mine is ruined,
my colleague’s papers strewn on the grass
below broken windows. Her Buddhist
altar shimmers with shards of clear glass.
All of her books are knocked from their shelves.
Did a tornado swirl and bypass
my untouched office? We tell ourselves
stories to make sense of the shambles—
who’s hit, who’s spared, how and why. We delve
into climate change sites, the gamble
of living on Florida’s coast while
big money developer’s trample
every square foot of bare sand, beguile
investors. As I teach, I don’t know
it will take six months to compile
a roster of workers to bestow
upon me new walls, windows, ceilings.
I don’t know an additional flow
of rainwater will flood my failing
compromised sliders on October
13th, the day of my aunt’s passing
in Rhode Island, that all those blowers
will be rolled in again. I don’t know
that I’ll stay behind, that they’ll lower
my aunt’s body while I’m a no-show
mopping up seepage and brazen leaks,
my old towels so heavy I blow
a fuse, the dryer halting from heaps
of soaked terrycloth. Even though I
thought I’d wrung them out well, my technique
must have been subpar—my alibi
exhaustion. I don’t know my guru-
neighbor Beth will move, selling her tie-
dyed scarfs and yoga mats to pursue
a life in New Mexico, free from
hurricanes. I don’t know I’ll turn to
a chiropractor, my fingers numb,
my spine askew from bending and lift-
ing. I don’t know I’ll crave the humdrum
of my pre-Irma life when I’d drift
into sleep, my big worries abstract.
I don’t know I’ll transpose numbers, shift
a five and a two when I pay back
John and Cindy for our escapades,
the check refused in a bank transac-
tion. All I know that night as I grade
papers is that I’m jittery. A
plunk from my faucet makes me afraid,
the sound too much like rain’s mania.
The news reports a new storm unfold-
ing, tracking Irma’s path—Maria.
“Terza Irma” is a project that took me a year to write. The poem was composed with the help of my journal entries during Hurricane Irma—the lead up, the evacuation, and the cleanup. I was thinking of Dante, as well as the wet (in Florida’s case) hellishness of our earth’s climate crisis.
SEE THE ISSUE
Poem of the Week
Jul 13 2020
Benjamin Garcia “Keeping Home”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Keeping Home” by Benjamin Garcia! Benjamin Garcia’s first collection, THROWN IN THE THROAT (Milkweed Editions, August 2020), was selected by Kazim Ali for
Poem of the Week
Jul 06 2020
Heather Treseler “The Lucie Odes”
This week’s poem of the week is the 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Prize-winning “The Lucie Odes,” by Heather Treseler. The Lucie Odes For Lucie Nell Beaudet (1960-2018)
Poem of the Week
Jun 29 2020
Katie Erbs “Artemisia Gentileschi Gives Head to Every Man at Once”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Artemisia Gentileschi Gives Head to Every Man at Once.” Katie Erbs received her degree in English from Webster University, with an emphasis in