The Storm Before the Storm, and the Actual Storm: Everyday Magic, Day 819

IMG_5891 2Driving home from teaching Curvy Yoga tonight, I was delighted by the flashes to the north and south. A parade of storms was circling its wagons. Because I love a good storm (good thing too, considering I live in Kansas), I drove foot loose and carefree, despite Wagner’s dramatic “Tannhauser” blaring dramatic build-up on the radio. Barely to the southern edge of Lawrence, Ken called: a blinding rain was here, and I would be driving right into it. I told him it was dry where I was but he assured me that the road to our house, just three miles away, was barely visible for him a moment ago.

There’s nothing like listening to Wagner while lightning illuminates a vast, dark grey monster you’re driving right into at highway speeds. I was surprised at how quickly (in a flash, so to speak) my happy storm anticipation turned into wheel-gripping apprehension. By the time I turned onto our road, I realized I was in a lucky pocket, arriving between waves, skirting the fingers of intense downpour.

Now, some hours later, I’m writing in the dark while big wind pours across the land, the rain sheets down, and rapid-fire lightning powers from all sides. The weather radio makes it buzzing sound to say something is upon us. The dog in the back room, the one with few windows and my sleeping son, claws anxiously at the door. The cats rumble across the living room floor, attacking each other and then forgetting their attack in the hunt for another hair tie to kill.

Usually, Ken is out of bed, checking radar for any hook-shaped blotches threatening tornado or hail, but this time it’s me, occasionally pausing to run to the porch and feel the wind, watch the soft gray edges of the traveling clouds, and listen to tens of thousands of raindrops make ground fall. The storm of the storm, unlike the storm before the storm, is the real thing. As I wrote in one poem in Stephen Locke’s and my book, Chasing Weather, you’ve got to respect that.

Respect the Storm of the Storm

Watch like your life depends on it.

The first wave pushes the blackbirds

over the seam of the darkening west.

Uplifting wind multiplies and divides the world.

Flags tatter themselves in its speed. Then sirens.

From the overhang of your porch, wait

for the imprint of lightning to open your eyes.

Surrender to the wide yawning of thunder, the tendrils

trailing the supercell, and the one sweet songbird

at once unaware and aware. Follow

the storm of the storm, not the storm you expect.

When the rotation makes landfall, go inside swiftly.

Rush the stairs to the basement, grabbing the small cat

and photo albums on the way. Call the neighbors

from the crawl space. Press the anxious dog to your chest.

Turn up the weather radio and let the tone of danger

vibrate through your beating heart.

Obey the hunter you once were thousands of years ago.

Finishing the Last Poem for Chasing Weather: Everyday Magic, Day 794

20110620_5447Yesterday, I finished the last poem, the one I couldn’t conjure for weeks, and not for lack of trying. Part of the 70 poems in Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image, the book I’m doing with splendid weather chaser and photographer Stephen Locke, “Rain,” capped about three or four years of writing weather poems (after many decades of writing weather poems because weather is the fascinating soundtrack to our lives).

As a poet, I’m not used to writing a body of poems on deadline although there have been plenty of times I’m pushing and praying through a poem for a special occasion. Because poetry is so hard to get published, usually, I have years (decades even) to linger over a book, but for this one, that goes to the publisher, Ice Cube Press, within a week, I had to throw myself into the mercy of the page. Sometimes the right line, image or rhythm would come, and often, it wouldn’t. I tended to play with the not-quite-right poems by trying them out with very short, then very long lines, each time, tweaking the language, and hoping some fresh new image landed in my lap. And that’s kind of the essence of poetry: you show up on the page, surrender all, work like crazy, pay attention while not paying attention, and hope the gods give you something to say.

Such was the case with this poem, which went through many versions, and which I began again to write a dozen times. Part of the challenge was what to say about storms and life that I hadn’t said in any of the other 69 poems. Now that I found something that feels good to me, I let it go, carry the manuscript to a wonderful writer who will proofread the poems for me, and then send it to my publisher. While I’m done chasing poetry (for a short while), we’re not done chasing dollars to fund the high quality printing of this book, so if the work connects with you, and you’d like to buy your copy in advance, and support a small press, please see our indiegogo campaign here. Meanwhile, in honor of being finished, and of this blustery, rainy day, here is “Rain.”

Rain

The wall of noise dissolves to rain,

a world held in place by a million falling threads.

In the balance, the fur on the coyote’s belly,

worn as leather but marked with a lifetime of fights,

and the lake hungry for new stories to swim with the old.

Lightning angles and wishbones, branches into branches

that mimic what grows or tunnels below.

Scenery unrolls quick-silver — expanses of land

or water, sky and darkness — in the flash that lights up

all the lines of roads and clouds, cedars and shorelines,

before sealing all back together in shifting hues of night.

What seems like the end, again a beginning.

What can’t be said, suddenly pouring down everywhere.

Two Bodies Always in Motion: A Crowd-Sourced Poem of Sorts: Everyday Magic, Day 793

201110240307 copyIn finishing the poems for Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempest, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image, the book I’m writing with Stephen Locke, I simply couldn’t get started on writing a poem to fit this magnificent photo. After many months of trying, I asked my Facebook friends to give me words to get going, and did they! I used all I could (got in coruscating, a new word to me), and am sorry I couldn’t make words like bicuspid work. Here’s the latest version of the poem, and if you want to get your copy of the book (and support our campaign to rush funds for the high quality color printing of so many amazing photos), please see the Indiegogo campaign we’re doing here.  Thank you to everyone who so generously helped me find the words for this poem.

Two Bodies Always in Motion

A coruscating kaleidescope of fire, grief,

possibility, and beauty about to be ghosted

in the velvet memory of stars and eyes.

 

One body bends its light toward land,

the other mirrors its mirage into tall sky.

Yellow-bellied heavens ring jewel tones

of flicker, low notes of boom.

 

Skirts of electrical impulse rustle

stage curtains across the Great Plains.

What we call a sunbow, neon way of knowing,

thumbprint of the sun, lost ship of florescence

tipping its arctic ridges south

before vanishing north for another decade.

 

The light never leaves us, only wavers.

No one ever lost completely except

in one slot of time, one way of loving.

Always two bodies: our own, and the world’s.

The Goodnight Tornado: Everyday Magic, Day 539

As many of you know, I’ve been writing poetry to go with Stephen Locke’s vibrant photos. Stephen reminded us today that it was the second anniversary of the Goodnight, Texas tornado. Here’s his photo of that tornado from April 22, 2010 along with the poem I wrote to go with the photo.

Goodnight, Texas

Goodnight, Texas, land of expanse and loneliness,

where the sky makes up for in height whatever you need

in width. Goodnight, tumbleweed and stark blue

against the gray fingers of cloud. Goodnight, billowing light

and speed, especially the turning away from and toward

that parents one errant tornado trip across the home

of sage and javelina, snakes pouring themselves underground

and the glistening vultures, who cleared out ahead of the front.

Goodnight, cobalt sky tipping darker as you rise. Goodnight,

rain and reflecting pond, where all secrets reveal themselves.

Goodnight, old story of old weather, and goodnight, waking panorama

of what’s to come. Goodnight to the whitest clouds, edged with

momentum, and the myriad angles of gray, surging ahead

with danger tucked into its folds. Goodnight, everything ready

to vanish, moved over the cusp of time by the coming stars

patterned on the clearest night sky the coyotes ever saw.

Finishing Begin Again: Everyday Magic, Day 432

Yesterday, the books came, marking the end of months of editing, proofreading, checking the proof, talking with designers and photographer, and hundreds of emails to and fro with the press, and the 93 contributors. When I thought of doing the 150 Kansas Poems site, the idea of a book was just a glimmer (as in, “This might be a cool book”), but as the site unfolded, the poems shone brighter, and Woodley Press indicated some interest in publishing an anthology, a book became inevitable.

The space between a book’s inception and the box of books arriving isn’t often pretty, and it’s always far more complicated and challenging than any writer or editor imagines. I learned even more how much I hate rejecting people’s poems, particularly when some of the rejectees take it personally. I struggled with how to organize 150 poems, finally settling on a seasonal approach, and then finding ways to fit the poems together like a puzzle that would reveal a narrative of moving through weather, places, changes and realizations. There were many details to check over and over. “Begin Again” isn’t just a title of a wonderful poem in the anthology by Nancy Hubble: it’s a way of life for anyone putting out a book.

At the same time, I worked with great people — Kevin Rabas and Dennis Etzel at Woodley Press, designing poets superb Matt Porubsky and Leah Sewell (who also fed me at the fabled Porubsky’s in Topeka), and photographer of the skies Stephen Locke. Holding this book in my hands, looking at how artfully the photograph wraps the cover, and how full the book is of poems of so many stripes and spots, I’m very happy……and happy it’s done.

Now that Begin Again is finished, we begin anew to do readings — over a dozen happening soon or in the works, and some in a city near you. I’m especially looking forward to a Southwest Kansas tour (Garden City! Ulysses! Dodge City!) where we’ll bring a little poetry roadshow to a corner of the state where there aren’t many readings (I’m told our reading in Ulysses will be a first).

The book is beautiful, the poems are gorgeous, and where the book leads us now will bring many writers in this state and beyond together in ways we’re just glimpsing at the moment, kind of like the notion of this book itself less than a year ago.