Ellen Pickus


     For the  Levy-McCleans  

Even our cars were stunned by nature’s indifference.
Crazed horns bleated throughout the night;
trunks and windows opened themselves
to the water to release victims already hiding in their homes;
seat warmers meant for comfort started fires.
All our clever designs come to nothing.  

We’d thought we were prepared for anything.
We’d bought canned food, expected little difference
in our routines.  We could cook on gas fires,
use candles and flashlights, retire earlier at night.
We didn’t think of evacuating our homes.
Last year’s flood had brought so little water.  

Who ever thought we’d see so much water?
In all our years of living on Long Island, nothing
had prepared us for the sight of our homes
swept by salt waves; the unspeakable indifference
of a man’s denying a mother’s plea for help that night;
children drowned; many lost to falling trees or fire.  

For days sirens announced the arrival of
fire fighters.  National Guard brought drinking water.
Neighbors spread useful news, comfort, food.  At night
we used a battery-run radio.  Nothing
we’d never heard before, just a different
place.  Not New Orleans, but our home.  

We cleared debris and pumped out the homes.
For a few days we kept our home fires
burning.  But the most awful difference
wasn’t the loss of our goods to water.
Suddenly the temperatures dropped.  Nothing
was worse than the cold and dark at night.  

Now I understood the ghost stories winter nights
made our ancestors believe in, their homes
so much flimsier than ours.  They faced nothingness,
death, if they ran out of fuel for fires.
I yearned for warmth, running hot water.
Friends took us in, and that made all the difference.  

We’re different now, brushed by night.
Blessed water cursed us and shook our homes.
We need the warmth of better fires, or we’ll have nothing.

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