Tag Archives: Hurricane

Because of the Hurricane

I wrote the poem below almost 28 years ago, after I visited Puerto Rico for the first time. A few months earlier Hurricane Hugo had devastated much of the island. My companion, the Nuyorican critic and poet Ed Morales, and I were struck by the continuing damage, physical and psychological. In the decades since, I have survived a few hurricanes myself, most notably during the terrible season of 2015, when I lived in a home below sea level on Normandy Isle in Miami Beach and a series of vicious storms pummeled us.

Hurricanes are obliteration machines. They set the clock back to zero. You can have all the community support you want: After Wilma delivered the knockout blow in October 2015, our neighborhood truly pulled together. With no electricity, hence no stoves or refrigerators, we took turns hosting barbecues, using up our perishables. With no screens to distract them, the kids played imaginative games together, most memorably one called “hurricane,” which involved shining flashlights on tree branches pulled to wave wildly to the accompaniment of lots of screaming. When, thanks to the seeming caprices of what is optimistically called “the grid,” our side of the street got power back a week before the other side, we strung extension cords across Biarritz Drive, yellow tentacles striping the blacktop. It was a simple, sweet time in a way. But with basic modern services disrupted, Wilma made us all primitives — dependent, ultimately, on the kindness and, hopefully, efficiency of strangers.

My heart goes out to the people of Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and Cuba, and all the Leeward Islands, and Houston, and Corpus Christi, and my dear Keys and Miami, and to Mexico too. Nature can be a bitch. But it’s certain humans who can be truly evil.

 

Hugo

Because of the hurricane
The man sells bowls
with Taino cave drawings
out of his home
in a San Juan suburb
We get lost on streets
named Florence, Venice, Madrid
looking for Barcelona
Geegaws gather dust
on shelves in the dining room
They are little more than fanciful souvenirs
yet his wife shows them off proudly
hoping we mainlanders
will purchase something big
the table carved out of a tree stump, perhaps,
instead of the keychains and ashtrays
our artists’ budgets humbly choose
Because of the hurricane
we back down a dirt road in our rented car,
chasing roosters,
my lover’s aunt explaining
in a rapid clucking Spanish
that I don’t understand:
The Loiza workshop
where men of African descent
make brilliant masks
of coconut shells and papier-mache
is closed
Instead we pull up to a brightly painted casita
where a Loisa woman
sells straw dolls and coconut oil —
she tells my lover
it will keep his hair from falling out
He doesn’t take offense
Because of the hurricane
You can see the ocean
from the house
where my lover’s parents
will retire next year
leaving the Bronx
the mainland
the part of the U.S.
where Puerto Ricans
can vote for American presidents
yet are still treated like second-class citizens
Luquillo Beach twinkles in the horizon
from El Yunque.
Up close,
for every palm spreading its fronds
in a heavenward mane
there is the stump of a tree felled by the hurricane
Because of the hurricane
My lover and I
can’t touch each other
without rousing pain
Can’t make love without drowning in sorrow
hugging in the night
to the sharp cries of the coqui
and muffled tears
Because of the hurricane
in San Juan’s hotel district
the woman at the tourist office
hurries to lock the door
shutting us in
as a man outside
with institutionally cropped hair
slices his throat
on the jagged edge
of a broken beer bottle.
(I know what he is doing
I know the feeling of broken glass
drawn against flesh)
He is lying on the pavement
his white T-shirt
and blue jeans
maroon with blood
We have only been
in Puerto Rico two hours
we have never seen
anything like this
As the police car speeds past
two men hover over the body
in the back seat
We wonder if it is too late

 

 

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