KR OnlinePoetry

The Mother Warns the Tornado; On the Origins of the Tornado

The Mother Warns the Tornado

Scene: a bathtub, dry. The noise outside inaudible
behind the baby’s wails.

I know I’ve already had more than I deserve.
These lungs that rise and fall without effort,
the husband who sets free house lizards,
this red-doored ranch, my mother on the phone,
the fact that I can eat anything—gouda, popcorn,
massaman curry—without worry. Sometimes
I feel like I’ve been overlooked. Checks
and balances, and I wait for the tally to be evened.
But I am a greedy son of a bitch, and there
I know we are kin. Tornado, this is my child.
Tornado, I won’t say I built him, but I am
his shelter. For months I buoyed him
in the ocean, on the highway; on crowded streets
I learned to walk with my elbows out.
And now he is here, and he is new, and he
is a small moon, an open face, a heart.
Tornado, I want more. Nothing is enough.
Nothing ever is. I will heed the warning
protocol, I will cover him with my body, I will
wait with mattress and flashlight,
but know this: If you come down here—
if you splinter your way through our pines,
if you suck the roof off this red-doored ranch,
if you reach out a smoky arm for my child—
I will turn hacksaw. I will turn grenade.
I will invent for you a throat and choke you.
I will find your stupid wicked whirling
head and cut it off. Do not test me.
If you come down here, I will teach you about
greed and hunger. I will slice you into palm-
sized gusts. Then I will feed you to yourself.

On the Origins of the Tornado

Once, a hundred Aprils ago, the tornado
was a young man being pulled along
by the Missouri River while his friends
laughed, then called, then screamed, then
went silent. Once, the tornado
was a fat tabby kicked by a fatter kid.
During the Depression, the tornado
rinsed and saved aluminum foil.
The tornado was once an old hotel slated
for demolition. Was once a penny
dropped off a skyscraper. These days
were full of sweat and scramble. So with effort,
with fortitude, the tornado became
the Atlantic Ocean on a relatively calm day
in August, the circus tiger roaring
on command. For a few months, the engine
of a dependable locomotive. These were decent times,
but dull: always the same sound of the waves
and the tracks, the same applause and butcher-
carved lamb. No one likes being taken
for granted. So the tornado became
the heavy class ring on a bully’s finger,
the eyetooth of the possibly-rabid dog.
The tornado was the Kool-Aid
to which the cyanide was added.
The tornado was a billy club in Selma.
The tornado was one pine root loosed
in the great mudslide. The tornado learned
that there was an electricity
in the percussion of splintering wood
and splitting bone. That fury
stills into awe, and what is love
but aweful? The tornado listened until
the howls crystallized into a ringing
song, a round. Ruin, awe, love,
it went, round and around and around.
The tornado listened, and then was home.

Catherine Pierce is the author of The Tornado Is the World (forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in 2016), The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012), and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008). Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry (2015 and 2011), Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, and elsewhere. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.