The roving eye of the worst hurricane in history, set aim for Galveston on September 8, 1900, overturning homes and uprooting trees in its wake.
I lay out my afternoon tea cup,
set my pot on to boil.
A tree crashes my roof, upsetting.
Clay Braughn, the youngest of the rescue volunteers , reached Claire Thornton's home four hours after the tides first spilled over shore, sending half-dressed survivors slogging for higher ground. He hadn't wanted to come on this mission, but had to prove he was no coward. Not like his son of a bitch father before him. His legacy.
I search through the remnants of my
mother's china, now scattercrashed
to the wood floor of this house
my grandfather built.
Its once sturdy roof weeps
water onto the sofa
where my mother once soothed
soft cries, my father lit his cigars,
and my last husband flaunted
his whore before taking
the next train to Houston.
He rammed the door with his axe. Clattering, footsteps, then silence. The roar of the wind seemed to mock him. Another elm toppled in the grove. Is anybody there, he called. In town they said Claire Thornton danced barefoot in that same grove at night, hair swirling behind her.
He bangs at my door,
that same door I closed once,
not to open again, especially
to brash young men thinking
me foolish enough to come running
with uncombed hair and my face
unrouged or powdered.
Leaves hurled themselves at the windowpanes and mud sucked at his boots. Bile slid from stomach to throat as he broke the hasp with his axe, knees trembling when he fell through the door.
He stares at me, this intruder
glassy eyed, fists tight.
Has he never seen a woman stoop
to gather her china before?
A chunk of wood crashed through one window, rain close behind. He reached down and grabbed her arm but she jerked free. Don't you understand , he shouted. The storm will blow down your house.
He speaks of storms come
to destroy me. but
what does he know of storms
I have already survived, of kisses
given, then taken away, hands reached
through lonely nights over smooth sheets
touched by no husband's back
and no mother to smooth my damp hair
He grabbed at her again, but she ran into the next room, lock falling behind her. Axe lifted to chop again, water bubbled over his boots and the house shuddered along with him. The axe tumbled from his hand as her laugh slipped through the door. Stay here and die, crazy old loon, he screamed and ran for his horse. A buggy wheel flew by, bounced off a tree and headed west. He thought of his father once, then mounted and followed.
He thinks of death as the enemy,
but I welcome this stranger
roaring across tree tops and land
to find me, embrace his sweet song,
wait eagerly, until walls tumble
and lonely nights claim me no more.
Six thousand men, women, and children were killed in the storm. All of Galveston was destroyed. When asked about Claire Thornton later, Clay Braunghn said no-one was home. He was commended for his bravery.
A collaboration between Philipe Nicolini and Pris Campbell
Accepted for publication in Verse Libre, summer, 2003
Art: Photo of Great Storm Statue commemorating the Galveston Storm
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