August 30, 2005

Hurricane Agnes, 1972

The flood crept up on our valley town.
My father was away when the water
began, leaving my mother with the hard
job of deciding what was worth saving.
She put my sister and me to work
and we ran through the house rolling carpets up.

Rain fell all night and began to ooze up
through floorboards. No one in town
slept – watching the water rise was work
we took seriously. Except this water
looked more like old gravy someone had saved
for too long – thick and brown and going hard.

They made us leave, made my mother’s jaw go hard
with the effort of what felt like giving up.
I was pretty sure I didn’t need saving.
I knew every hill and tree of my town;
my creek sneakers could handle some old water.
I begged to stay but it didn’t work.

My father snuck past the national guard and was working
his way home, driving fast and trying hard
not to imagine how high the water
was on our street. The TV played it up:
Watch at eleven as yet another town
is swamped; see people plucked from rooftops, safe!

We kids saw two mice we wanted to save.
My father found us and told us how much work
it had been, how he’d had to search the whole town.
We stayed in a shelter and it was hard
to live in a crowd; the noise never let up,
there was no hot food, no running water.

The rain stopped but there was still all this water,
barns on their sides with the hay they’d been saving
floating past the hood of someone’s new pick-up.
The mud, the fallen trees: it all looked like work.
We got to keep our house but Dad took it hard
when one old friend just packed up and left town.

In some ways the work helped cheer us up,
wearing us out when it was hard to remember feeling safe,
so that the town could sleep again – and dream of water.

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