Monday, March 26, 2012

in africa they discover oil in country after country - cameroon, kenya, you name it, it's all over the place, and i assume it's been there all along just nobody bothered to find it, or do what it took to get at it; as it happens, it's the cradle of world civilization, so i imagine the oil is older, richer, has a few more stories to tell. meanwhile back here they've taken to fracking up the rock beneath us in their desperation to pull something else out of the earth that we can sell, or burn, or use; we're frogs in a large soup bowl that's steadily heating up. not that i want to move to africa - how would that work? though i wouldn't mind a visit, wouldn't mind if maybe canada needed a sociologist, and i could talk my wife into going into the piney woods. i'm still stuck with the image, given to me by my friend, of stepping off the trans-canada & knowing you could walk over a thousand miles, without seeing another road. wonder if they're fracking up there - the whole country is water anyway it seems, no use squirting it underground and upsetting the rock. but with the melting poles, the ice melting and raising the water worldwide, maybe that's not so great either. who knows? i could just hunker down and survive in illinois, like all these other folks.

spring is busting out all over here, making my allergies go wild, splaying color upon color, different pinks and purples, yellow, salmon, even dark reds and olive greens of early shoots. spring was so early this year that many of us are still wondering if it won't come 'round with a little bite before it's over, but no, it's probably plantin' time, one way or another, being the last week of march and all. who knows? got sick over the weekend, and didn't plant at all, just moped around and drank coffee and tried to get better; i'm left with a residual cough and sneeze that just reminds me, it ain't over 'til it's over. my colleagues are all on planes to philly, and i'm a little sad to stay home, but it's ok, i love the children, and i've been hanging tight with them anyway, often at the expense of many other enterprises. i do write a little local poetry these days, and, got invited to iowa city, my old home, where i left a nice big huge piece of my heart, for a reading related to the upcoming book The Burg: A Writer's Diner which i'm quite excited about. in this book i actually have a story, but it puts actualism on a plate with a greasy omelette & ashes, totally seventies, i'd love to read it. actualism, as it turns out, is not quite dead; in iowa city there's an attempt to revive it and this is being done through an exhibit; i thought it was mentioned here in an interview with dave morice but it may have been somewhere else. anyway it could be said that actualism is now about forty years old; that it has been endangered for some time, that it didn't exactly catch wildfire, barely understood, that maybe, i'm like a voice in the wilderness though dave for one remembers it clearly. i'm not sure how many of us are out there waving the actualist flag (and what would that be, a piece of toast maybe)...ah well, to me it's as good a way as any to remember an era in my life.

so i'm six hours away now, planning a trip up to iowa during finals week or hopefully when grades are already turned in, for a reading, and this would be a kind of coming home for me, a town where i experienced much turmoil, it took the brunt of my uncivilized nature that i'd built up over years of traveling, literally a hard landing you might say. not only did i love the burg, also known as the hamburg inn, but even went so far as to help others start a vegetarian restaurant, which served breakfast, competition for the burg, yet the town was big enough for all of us, and, this place was in the basement of an old german catholic school with pigeons living on the outsides and an occasional flood caused by downpours and uncertain building history; it surely was haunted. we'd have meetings in what was once a classroom, for sure, and i'd squirm as we tried to work everything out cooperatively when, in fact, i was on the verge of just picking up and going to mexico, which i did at least once. another time i up & hitched out to santa monica & up the coast & back for no better reason than to get away & another time i set out for north dakota and missed it, ended up at a folk festival & in the rockies instead. but in iowa city we did all kinds of stuff, absolutely unforgettable, and i'm still totally loyal to the place. best city ever.

so the pope comes to the americas and picks as his spot guanajuato, this gorgeous town nestled in the dry mountains in the center of mexico a bit north of the capital but still way down there, you have to cross this seventeen-hour desert to get anywhere near the place but once you do you realize, it's gorgeous, it's europe and mexico and gold mines and brilliant color, all in one valley, and home to a university to boot, a kind of rural state capital much like iowa city in a way yet the mexican version definitely. so i think this place was ok with the pope for sure, at least they didn't throw tomatoes at him, but back in iowa city a few years back the three catholic churches, the german one, of which i was so familiar, and the czech one, and the irish one, were all rivals, apparently. and in that era i don't know what the status was of non-catholics, maybe that didn't occur to anyone, or maybe that meant you had rural roots and just drifted into the city from out there somewhere, maybe there was another school for those folks. i don't know when it was the capital of iowa, or whether that made any difference; seems to me that was way earlier. and the north side, and even the near north, but especially the north east, that was the czech area where the houses came right up to the street but had these little courtyards in the back where they'd keep geese & it was called goose town, or maybe that was the czech town in cedar rapids. in any case these neighborhoods with a lot of geese were never too peaceful, and any traffic would make echoes on the houses and you could always see your reflection as you drove past those houses that were close to the road. the czech catholic church was called saint wensc, the german saint mary, and the irish saint patrick's, i believe though i could be wrong & it was the irish one that got ripped by the tornado a few years back which i've mused about here before.

i'll let it go here, about whether these tornadoes are random or take sides in petty intracity feuds, or whether guanajuato or any city like it should worry about some guy in a big white hat, or what, all i can say is i miss both places and have told them, i'm coming to iowa if i can. not once but twice, in may for this reading and then in oct. for a college reunion, if possible, and wouldn't mind hitting field of dreams at least once on the way through, as it's very possible we'll go to minnesota again in the summer. we looked into michigan, the near west coast, up near chicago, but it's a little too near chicago, it's not far enough away, it's a bit urbane. minnesota is way up there, and it gives us a taste for the far north and the piney woods, the cold waters and what i like best is the look back over the water, back at the lower forty-eight or at least wisconsin. i mean, you're still in the usa, but there's this huge body of water, and you're way up above it, and as you look back these little lights of wisconsin are twinkling at you. and it's not a man-made lake, like so many of them are, around here. it's the real thing, gitchee-gumi.

if you're in a pond that's steadily heating up, and they're fighting over increasingly limited resources, no retirement, no money for the prisons, no money for the police dispatcher, no nothing, but hey the farmers are making money, but even they have been pouring chemicals into the soil for so long, that the soil is beginning to break down and crumble down the river and confuse the issue of what's mud and what's still river. and fracking of course doesn't help as it confuses the issue of what's earth, and what's just slime they can pull out of it, call oil & burn for heat. if you were amish, and took care of your land, and just sat there growing good food and trying to sell it for real money, probably someone would come along and steal it or build an incinerator on your land or something, make you wish you'd picked alberta, or africa, or maybe just stayed in switzerland. who knows if there's any way out of this mess, the earth is so militarized, and folks are so pent up and repressed, they're like to grab a gun and shoot at any hoodie they see, or whatever. you live by the gun, you live, eventually, with all those problems, and to see our way, sanely, through a world like this, i'm not sure i know how to do it. i'm not sure voting is the answer. voting just gets you jury duty, then you get a first-hand view of the whole darn pot of soup. ribit. don't know if i can take it. my jury duty, by the way, starts in april. i'll give you a report, i'm sure.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

so i was in a really dark mood (see below) which could have been caused by a number of things, but, fortunately, a very odd and unexpected story shook me right out of it. that is, it's odd that such a strange and twisted story could do that to a person, but it did, for whatever reason. i'll retell the story.

it so happens that right next to where i teach, in my new classroom, is a map of my own county in southern illinois, and the mississippi river snakes on down from saint louis on the southwestern edge of this county, on its way to cape girardeau and new orleans. but as i looked at the map i noticed that the river had cut a new course, actually shortening its run, but this new riverbed essentially isolated two little islands that are now east of the river, but still in missouri. so, even in the twenty-mile stretch that you could call the border of our county and the river, there are two places that are on our side of the river, but aren't part of our county. you probably always thought the river was the border between the states, eh? so did i.

but then, i told this story to a friend, who lives down there by the river, and always has, and grew up down there and all, and she told this story. i'm not sure how it came up; it's only indirectly related. in fact, the question at hand was this: apparently the river flowed backward after the great earthquake, which was what, maybe 1806. but that was before they had state borders, wasn't it? and when there was an earthquake, that's when it happened, she said. well, i'm still investigating that, but i'll do my best, and report to you.

anyway, the story goes like this. a friend of hers moved down to that bottomland and lived out there in the lowlands when the flood of '93 came by. everyone down there quick moved all their possessions to the second floors of their houses, and evacuated, and he did too. they figured that after a week or so, the river would go down and they could go back, hose off the first floor of their house, and take up where they'd left off. but the river didn't go down; it stayed up much of the summer. people got nervous and lots of houses gave in and went floating on down the river, never to be seen again.

people eventually got organized and saved what they could, and he, too, organized a boat to go out to his house, to see if he could save any of his possessions, which were still sitting there up on the second floor of his house. the river swirled below, still coming up most of the way on the first floor. but sure enough, he was able to take a boat out there, tie it up, crawl out of it, and open one of the second story windows. but when he did, he saw all his possessions: they were all still there, right where he'd left them. but they were completely, entirely covered with snakes. right then and there he got out of there, left, and never came back; eventually his house, like the others, broke off and floated on down the river.

now the question is, why such a horrible story could shake me out of my doldrums. somehow it reminded me, i guess, of the futility of hanging onto a lifetime of possessions. or maybe it reminded me of how lucky we all are, for basically just being alive.

lately it's been that in-between time when it got so hot that people complained, and finally pressured the university plant workers to change over from heating to cooling. this is always somewhat of a gamble, but it had been over eighty for almost a week, though it was still early march, and they finally concluded it wasn't going to get cool again, so they turned off the heater, and cranked up this enormous air-con machine that will essentially go all summer. but in that meantime, i couldn't take it; i opened my window; another secretary showed me how maybe twelve years ago and though i didn't ever really know how to open it, i left it ajar and it's been that way all along, more or less, since whatever key she used had unlocked it. i'm not too proud of this, having an open window, but there it was, open for a while, and a couple of wasps came in and availed themselves of the nice plant life and the chlorine smell eminating from my towel which i hang by the doorway after i swim. well these wasps, or hornets or whatever, are pretty scary to the students and other visitors, but i couldn't get them out of there, because the steady breeze kept coming inward, every time they got near the window they'd get blown back into the room, and they weren't strong enough, or didn't care enough, to fight the wind hard enough to get out. so rather than beat at them, or smack them with any newspaper or whatever, i just left them there, and when visitors would come in, to talk about how to learn english or whatever, i'd try to calm them down, and tell them, these things won't hurt you, if you don't hurt them. turns out the students feel they're in a wild exotic jungle, they sometimes break out in hives from the poison ivy, or the bugs, or something that they'd just never experienced back in their home countries. snakes, for one, are quick to spook them, even though the vast majority, around here anyway, won't kill you. same with spiders. watch out for the ones with the violins on their backs, i told her (common folk wisdom around here) - all the other ones are pretty much ok, though it might hurt if they actually sting you.

in general i've always found that i could communicate to them, and tell them that i meant them no harm, but in general it wasn't great to have them around anyway, because you never know when you'll sit in a chair, and there they'll be, only you don't see them, and now they're very upset like you betrayed them and they do sting you. now if i could be sure, and never sit in such a place, or even move anywhere near them, then we could both coexist, and i'd have a permanent way to keep the disruptions down during office hour. but why bother? i like people too. i want everyone to be comfortable.

i'm a do research on the shifting waters of the mississip...i'll get back to you.

Monday, March 19, 2012

spring blossoms out at such a rapid pace that the colors change, literally, every time i drive this certain road, and every road, as the flowers are busting out, in some cases, falling to the ground, changing color, coming into certain shades of green, from orange, salmon, pink, purple, whatever. it's kind of the opposite of fall in some ways but it happens quite quickly. then everything's green & steamy, like a rain forest.

just as quickly, it's mowing season, and people are around covering every square inch with loud noise and oil exhaust. and then they'll fire up a gas-powered blower to blow the clippings around, making loud noise the warning of pollens in the air and the chiggers & bugs now have to move somewhere where they're a little slower with the cutting.

my son wants me to read hunger games and to see the movie too, but i'm kind of stuck on something; i spent much of the break, besides holding two babies who i refer to as the brimfield girls, reading this book, the book is called nothing to envy, google it, it's a very captivating, extremely well-written book about an entire nation, north korea, imprisoned and starving to death, while its leaders apparently live it up and seek nuclear power or whatever. it's horrifying, because it's almost completely focused on the common people, and their attempts to feed themselves with pine bark or whatever, and how you can remove a people's contact with the outside world. it's scary. and now hunger games seems like, well, i'm not sure. is it serious?

a sinking feeling also arises that we are witnessing the downfall of the western world, europe first, usa not far behind, while some countries somewhere (china?) are holding all the cards and suddenly reluctant to keep lending to bankrupt systems, or whatever. why should they pay for my retirement when they won't even pay for their own people's? and, if they lend, say, the state of illinois, or greece, the money to cover that one payment, who's to say anyone will ever pay that back? if we continue to wither away, lose our insurance, lose our retirements, lose what security we've known for years, what happens? my kids & theirs may have to find new continents to live on. and they might not be the ones we're used to. peru, i'm thinking. or maybe africa...i have to admit, it's crossed my mind.

so i have these dreams, i write poetry, and it does pretty well, and i play music, and that's fun too (see below)...seems i've been doing them long enough that it's getting easier on the ears. some musicians got together for harrisburg & i did my part; it raised $400 something in just one venue, one evening (and there were many more venues, more evenings) so i feel like harrisburg came out all right. almost told the story of the folks who have my name, or the jury-duty story but lo & behold, got summoned to jury duty again, and this time i'll give you an up-to-the-minute report, or at least 24 hours, so you can figure out how i either got out of it, by being extreme (which i am) or got nailed to the jury like last time & have to listen to some yada-yada-yada. in my case that was a harrisburg story too and it was some long thing, three & a half weeks, don't mean to minimize it, it was some folks' lives, all splayed out in air-bag reports & testimony; don't know if i can handle that kind of thing again though it's good for the story-writing. i've become delicate. the brimfield girls, all of 90 days old maybe, have shown me how delicate and beautiful, and tenuous, life is, & how, if you get a chance, you should step back a minute, back one step and two forward, and they'll sink into your arms, and believe you, that everything is going to be all right. though i'm not quite sure i believe it myself.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

it's break and it's suddenly very warm and beautiful out, even hot for those who dress too warmly, like with an overshirt or long pants. i find myself tying that shirt around my waist or leaving it behind, shedding stuff, actually getting a tan as i sit & watch kids in public places. things are blossoming left and right, with many different shades of color working against and for each other everywhere you turn; i need a camera to record the kinds of colors i see splotched up against each other, and they change daily which also makes it interesting. granddaughter twins are here and when i'm holding one, and she cries, i can simply take her outside. the wind and the fresh smells hit her strongly and she'll be quiet while she figures it out; this often works for a while since going back in is another blast and it's all quite novel to a little baby. i feel like i'm showing them the world for the first time; it may in fact be the first time they can stand out there without bundling up, and just notice the colors, and just be out in the fresh air without being transported in it. i'm not sure they see the colors though. they have wide eyes, but don't focus too carefully.

i take the boys for a walk, and go under this road bridge where a babbling creek runs under and it's muddy and kind of cool and low; i yell at them not to slide down the mud and right into the water, but a certain amount of mud and water is inevitable in this kind of situation. later we walk down the wooded path to a place where a wooden footbridge crosses a tiny creek and right there they can go down into the larger creek where it's only about a foot deep, and cross over to a little stone island where they can walk barefoot; all this is while i sit on the wooden bridge and once again yell at them not to get too wet. we count the kinds of animals we see evidence of, but, to tell the truth, though we see lots of tracks in the mud i don't really know what all the tracks are of. dog? cat? raccoon? possum? not deer, deer are really huge, and i know them, but they don't go under the bridge, as far as i can tell. peeping frogs can be heard up and down the creek bed. some swamp is a little brackish and has apparently been wet for months or maybe all year. all this is a desperate attempt to get them away from the video games that have insidiously and relentlessly become their life. i don't tell them that, as they get older, they may run into the bad kids hiding out under that bridge or walking out into the woods to get away from being seen. we can see graffiti under there but can't necessarily identify it. they don't have to know everything. they like it and request to go back, even want to show their friends. i'm not so sure about that. for one thing, it's easy enough to fall in.

if i were truly resourceful i'd get lots of lumber and make a large stable tree house out in one of the major trees in the yard; i could teach them how it's done right, and then we'd have an outdoor fort that we could spend the good weather in. unfortunately i don't know how it's done right; it could lead to tetanus shots and kids fallen out of trees. the other problem is, i've never quite adjusted to what i consider "good weather" which is now until about late april, mixed in with tornadoes and drenching rains, and then in another window from about september until late october, a month and a half at each end, with the middle, may through august, downright intolerable. with this schedule it seems to me that i'd no sooner make the thing, than we'd have to go in for the summer, and not be able to use it. around the time i get organized to do anything, namely late march, or the end of vacation, and then we go back to school and get busy again; it's a vicious cycle, but if i'm lucky i get some onions planted at least, and maybe get their bicycles out there and working.

the other stuff, the screen play, the reading, the poetry, the publishing, the linguistics book, and the organizing, well, i've more or less put it off. you get these baby girls, so young they don't even cry when a big guy holds them, and maybe it's just as well, you hold them, and maybe see spring through their eyes. we saved a cat too; it's locked in the back room, awaiting shots and a new owner; in the background, the dogs sense it, they know something's up; they want to be part of everything. a jealous cat looks for her angle to jump up on you at any opportunity. but now, night falls, and everyone settles in for another round.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

the day before we let out for spring break it was raining hard and when i took the first garbage can out, it had blown over with its top in a huge puddle, before i even got the second one out. this process soaked me entirely but meant i spent the day with that fresh-rain feeling all over me. it's break now, time to relax and watch the pinks, reds, yellows, and whites all blossom and work with each other.

i tried to make a batch of cookies for one of the kids but used salt instead of sugar; i ate only one bite of the cookie i'd made and threw up the cookie and part of my dinner. i think there's just a lot of pressure associated with the end of term, a time when some students are very disappointed by what happened, and others come dancing through the halls overjoyed to be out of the program or at least out of their particular level. home now, i'm trying to read my wife's book on stalking because we've been asked to write a screenplay based on it. the problem is that her academic voice putting all these romantic jerks in perspective is somewhat hard on me. it's as if she'd look at every romantic batch of flowers with a jaundiced eye and i'm sure actually that she's not the only one who would. i just don't want to be reminded of it, necessarily.

so i go back to my poetry a little, and on this front i have something to report. when i did my reading, and actually read my newly-published (oct. 2011) book, i discovered typos and two repeated poems, to my horror. i was somewhat embarrassed about selling it though truth be told all the money went to the homeless shelter anyway, so it was not really a problem. from october to the reading i'd written a hundred more poems (or so) and was eager to put them in as it really filled out the situation especially in some states that were very weakly underrepresented. mind you i still don't have puerto rico, guam, or more than two from d.c., but i now have a minimum of eight in every one of the fifty and over six hundred altogether. so, rather than just fix what i'd made, which was already an incredible hassle, i put together e pluribus haiku 2012 and printed it, quickly. i now have ten copies in my hand. it's bigger, bigger print, but, and this is really sneaky, some of the poems (540 or so are about the same) have been slightly altered. assuming there will be more, one could now collect them all and study their evolution over time. i have assumed from the beginning that there would be many. i am also working on an entirely local one, boxcars on walnut, which has actually been there for a while (i considered calling it thirteen and fifty one, five seven five...and which has its own website which has been used for pop art and other kinds of artistic expression in the past.

break-time goals: get going on this screen play, whether the characters in a stalking drama are odious or what; do a little boxcars poetry or whatever else crosses my mind; fix the dulcimer (a key fell apart and the super-glue i bought to fix it may have got lost in the shuffle); catch up on new yorkers, at least a little; get the garden ready (i'm big on onions these days...); go from 214 to 209 pounds by virtue of rigorous exercise (whenever my wife catches wind of pointless dreaming she says save it for the blog as if all dreams are just that, endless and pointless prattle about things i coudln't possibly clean the garage, fix that d-n back shower, or clean out my back office....); maybe do some writing on just passing through...remember that this all appears here, on this blog, and will appear in italics in order to set it apart from all this other prattle. it's real though, it's all true, and i'd like to think that someday somebody will come poking around, and say, hey, this is where it all started. 'cause that's true.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

there are at least three possibilities when it comes to tornadoes, the first being that they're totally random, with no prearranged plan, no reason in particular they might hit one person and not another. this is kind of scary, so people like me like to believe that there is some order to the universe, thus there would be some huge karmic reason, given the big picture, that a tornado would touch down here, say, and not there, for example, the irish catholic church in one town, but not the german catholic church or the czech one in the same town which are just five or ten blocks away (this actually happened in iowa city). ok, and the last one, which i've more or less dismissed. is that god is really and truly in charge, much as i'm in charge of my class, and decides who goes & when, who passes and fails, and has some huge but very stern and specific reason for everything he with a capital h, does, including take any given baby at any given moment.

now as i've said in this very blog, a tornado passed through this way on leap day or somewhere thereabouts, 4 in the morning, we were all in our shelter, and it was killing six people in a small town about thirty miles away, people who didn't have a shelter, or a basement, or enough warning to go to where there would be one. so this area has rallied around and helped the folks who are left wondering, and pitched in & started the process of rebuilding. it's one more chapter in a fairly long story, and it leaves my international students with their jaw dropped to hear it. about three years ago we had what was called a "straight-line" tornado which left everyone going, what's up with that? is there such a thing? and is this a new trend? nobody had ever heard of such a thing but meteorologists said, oh yes, they're rare, but they happen. nobody died in that one and the world kind of forgot it and we were left with hundreds of fallen trees, broken roofs, crashed in houses, lost cars, no power for about a week, that kind of stuff, and we felt rather put-upon especially since the rest of the world just went along on their business like what happened to us was just a blip on the screen, didn't have much to do with the price of tea in china.

the bottom line, though, was that anyone with more than seventy years of memory knows that this area also had the worst tornado ever, 1925, killed a number of folks and since everyone is already related to everyone, just about everyone lost someone and that's ingrained in people's minds pretty much forever in these parts, even five generations later (a generation is only about sixteen years here) it's far from forgotten and you mention the word "tornado" and people will stop to listen to you, even if you don't have jack to say; everybody is a little jumpy and eager to hear any news that someone might contribute.

i mention this because i lived in kansas for six years, and this was in the southeast corner of the state, but kansas is a place where a tornado sucks up a town every once in a while and people say something like, there used to be a town up there, but it's gone, and they probably won't rebuild it. they lost one on leap day, and along with branson and our town it all made the news because hey, it was an entire town. but tornadoes were a fairly regular event out there and the movie 'wizard of oz' did nothing to temper that general image that it was the home of them, as if they were all born out there. once one came through our town, pittsburg, and ripped some aluminum off an arby's and then headed over and roughed up a trailer park and after that i started asking if there was some scientific reason tornadoes headed for trailer parks since lord knows, nobody in the midwest would deny that 90% of the time, that's exactly where they head. nobody will deny that tornadoes head straight for trailer parks, it's a well-known fact. deep in the back of our minds of course is this moral judgment issue, as if god is saying, don't get pregnant too early or you'll end up in one of those trailer parks and then look what happens. ok i'd like to avoid that kind of moral judgment though bringing up my kids in the wide open midwest, tornado country, i'm pretty quick to tell those kids, live anywhere, but not in one of those trailer parks. anyway my scientific theory, that there is something electrical about those tornadoes that is attracted to aluminum or the charge that sits around it (you can tell by the sickly-bruise color and the feeling in the air that something electrical is going on) didn't have many takers. one woman, a born kansan, just outright said, forget it, it's all economic. the rich people study the plats, play the odds, buy the hilltop land, get away from the tornadoes, while the guy that makes the trailer park buys the low river valley because he doesn't care, he's just trying to make a buck fast. and the tornadoes come right down the low flat land seeking out the lowest flattest surface.

now a final theory would be the media theory, namely that a trailer park makes a better visual graphic of mangled aluminum, and looks more mangly on television and frames the crying faces in such a way that all the mangly aluminum is more memorable and influences our midwestern perception, already heavily jaded by the contrast between mangled aluminum and wide-open plain. so it burns in our consciousness in such a way that it stays with us forever. doesn't stop some people from living in trailer parks though.

so i'm showing this television news movie clip to my news class the other day, and it's about this girl in indiana, who got picked up and heaved a hundred yards over to a muddy field by a sawmill, and she actually lived, at least for a little while, until finally her luck ran out and she died. a neighbor woman said basically that they'd prayed to god to save their family, and god did indeed save their family, but then i think she realized, if that's true, than god also threw this poor little girl a hundred yards, let her live a while still, and then took her? and the girl's name was angel, i seem to remember, so that could give you comfort, and make you feel that maybe god had some kind of plan, whether it included this intense sudden dramatic cruelty to a young baby or whatever. i'm just saying, if you go with the order-in-the-universe idea, you've got some explaining to do, because there doesn't look like much order outside of the usual trailer-heads-straight-for-trailer-park and doesn't care if you have a double-wide. the guy in the story will forever have to live with the fact that he thought his double-wide would be safer than their little trailer so he talked them into coming over with him, but it didn't work, and they all got sucked up and thrown over by the sawmill where he actually lived, barely. but my point is, well, i don't know, i forgot my point, don't know why i've been staying up nights, trying to put my finger on it, trying to find some kind of order in the universe.

then it turns out that pittsburg kansas, the night of the harrisburg/branson/harveyville kansas tornado, got hit by one of those straight-line 100-mile-an-hour wind, not only got hit, but this thing seemed to be directed at the very street i lived on for six years. it didn't kill anyone, but some guy was trapped in his house just barely a house or two away from one of the ones we lived in, and it tore the roof off some houses, damaged a school, etc. now this was twenty years or more ago that i actually lived in this town, in a little corner of it tucked away on the south side, kind of between the university and the hospital, a little street that curved around and had a bunch of tract-houses that looked alike. the thing is, life was pretty sleepy there overall, but now they're all standing around going, what's up with this "straight-line" jobby? and the meteorologists are scratching their heads and saying, well, they are known to happen, here and there, though we don't know much about why there would be so much wind and no point is that this is all kind of an echo to us illioisans who found out what they meant by "derecho" before we even could figure out how to pronounce the word.

didn't mean to pass over poor angel so quickly, fact is, though, i didn't know her, except the picture i saw as i reran the movie (we always watch them a few times, thus etching details into my mind a little better, but not really doing much to help them actually figure out what was up with that tornado). no sooner than the woman said, god saved her and her family, answered her prayers, did she realize, and then she cried, what's that saying about angel and hers. they didn't pray right? i'm not sure why she cried, of course, i didn't know her either, maybe she knew angel, or maybe she just kind of realized what she'd have to be implying. i myself would like to watch out what i'm implying, i'm not implying anything, except that that wide yellow swath that came directly over these tiny houses i used to live in, directly over, made me wonder, who i still knew in the area, who might be out there, sawing up trees and pulling the cars out from underneath them. a son was born on that road one year, one saturday in february, another time i taught a kid to ride a bike in the school parking lot and he fell, and remembered it forever. they would climb trees and slides out there in kansas and that was a pretty big deal because, you got any kind of altitude, you could see quite a ways, missouri was only five miles away but you could see farther than that easily sometimes, and hear the train for miles. i still hear that train sometimes, kins of miss the way it flattened out going west 'til it got up into the high plains and then, then, they wouldn't mess around.

stability, you might think, would be a steel-beam plate shelter, dug well into the ground, always accessible, etc. i would agree, yes, i would wish everyone had one. here i am though, and wind is picking up, and i'm getting tired, i've had enough, and i'm going to bed.

Friday, March 02, 2012

a few years after i got to southern illinois, in the late nineties, i googled my own name and found two out of the five or six in the country with my exact name lived in a nearby town, a coal-mining town about thirty miles away. so i took a family calendar, which had our genealogy, over to this old guy and gave it to him. politely he invited me in and we sat around chatting for a while, trying to figure out if there was any way we could be related. he'd come from a farm family and didn't really know his ancestry, how he'd got his name, where they were from. but he'd given his son the same name, and his son was a policeman/fireman as we spoke.

he was retired and in fairly bad health after a life on the farm, in the mines, or in some bad jobs which he told me but i forgot. what struck me was seeing bills and magazines with basically my name on them all over the house as if it was my house, but, in so many ways, we lived in entirely different worlds. a town of ten thousand, everyone knows each other, and it gets pretty rowdy at times with people set in the character roles that they set out for themselves, and grow into those roles because there is plenty of room to grow, people can be as extreme as they want. i'd lived in towns like this and i recognized that aspect of it, and i went back a time or two over the years, even sat on a jury once of people from that town, a parade of emergency personnel testifying about a guy they'd all known all their lives and known all too well, so much that they'd pretty much decided he was guilty before they even saw what he'd done. i thought about these folks when i went back through there; the town has a single hill and a small downtown, a little hospital tucked back in the neighborhoods, and a strip mall out by the wal-mart, by where the road down into the shawnee hits the road to indiana.

this was the town hit by the tornado the other day, six people killed, and the police chief is all over the news these days if i were to google my own name again. we here, thirty miles away, can hardly help; we don't have chainsaws, we worked a full week and are exhausted; we don't know from house and pole-barn debris, what do you do about it, so as not to be overwhelmed by grief or wonder. whole pole-barn stores, including wal-mart, destroyed; hospital took a hit; little houses with no basements, struck at 5 am, people had no time to find cover, and their places were flattened.

all these wild connections i have with the place though, and i still can't say i really even knew anyone there, even the police chief. i'd met his dad, of course, and his mom, same as i'd met the people in that trial and even one or two others from the town, over time, but not really known them. after the trial, though, which was for the guy who killed two well-known blues musicians, i went home and listened to their blues, which was now gone. it was fantastic; they had this haunting sound that reminded me of the allman brothers that completely reflected the dead-end, small-town feeling which i could relate to, both the feeling and the music it took to get yourself out of it.

small towns are at their best when they're cleaning up after a disaster, because they know everybody and there aren't that many secrets, and in fact people have some free time and if they all get out there doing something, they fell better about themselves for years. in such a small town everyone knew the people who died, even was related to them, everyone had a story, everyone can say something. but we, thirty miles away, are cut off, vaguely, with our feeling that luck drove the thing just off our path and onto theirs, that maybe the next one will be coming our way. a few sirens and we're all in our shelters, and my students are a little nervous too, they've never seen anything like it. they're asking visitors and gawkers to stay away though, and we will, out of respect and a sense of privacy. i didn't actually know any of the people involved, not a one. their wal-mart was destroyed, but hey, they can build another one of those in minutes. my week is over, i'm on my way to bed, with only these images, blues musicians, old coal miner, a few people i'd met here and there. the old guy and the musicians, they'd already died, but my mind wanders, i'd put them all in one geographical drawer and now that drawer is rent asunder, a kind of pile of photos that will occupy my dreams for sure. and life will also go on, in its own way.

Thursday, March 01, 2012