Years ago, my friend A. (who has great taste) sent me a link to a poem by a friend of hers. That poem was Catherine Pierce’s “The Mother Warns the Tornado,” which is very, very good.
I’ve never forgotten it (I watched Twister quite a bit in my formative years), and so I was delighted when a copy of The Tornado Is the World*, Ms. Pierce’s new book of poems, appeared in the mailbox. It’s just as excellent as “The Mother Warns the Tornado” promises.
How do we live in a world where disaster might be just around the corner? This is the question The Tornado Is the World explores in its three sections, beginning with the poem “Disaster Work,” which asks: If you truly focused on each and every tragedy unfolding in the same moment,
How could you do the impossible work
of putting your child to bed,
saying goodnight, closing the door
on the darkness?
You couldn’t, of course; we bear the unbearable by setting it aside, considering it only briefly, or when it happens to us (and it will).
That’s why the metaphor of the book’s title works so well: you can’t predict when the world is going to come for you (“Checks / and balances, and I wait for the tally to be evened”), or how bad the damage will be. In these poems (about two dozen out of the collection, including the entire second section) the tornado is a malevolent entity, power personified. “But the tornado cannot stop. Will not. / The world cannot stop turning, and this minute / the tornado is the world,” the poet writes in “The Tornado Visits the Town.” It gathers objects and living things in a terrifying harvest, as in “The Tornado Collects the Animals”:
The tornado will wrap them tight.
It will make sure the poor things
know what it is to be held.
That’s such a powerful image, echoing the repeated image of the mother huddling over her child in a dry bathtub, trying to protect him from a force of nature, becoming a force of nature herself, maybe.
Though rage and anxiety are swift currents running through this collection, so is gratitude. Gratitude for being spared, for the ability to observe and catalogue aftermaths, but also gratitude for the beauties of this terrible, fearsome world: the hawk (“something prehistoric”) hunting in the suburbs, the “crocus-blessed” Southern winter (“an unhinged sweetheart— / all gloss and lilt, until the shift.”), beach towns and bars and dreams.
I loved this collection, and commend it to your reading.
*I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.
If you’re looking for another poetry collection about destructive natural phenomena, I recommend Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler.