Reading about hurricanes while facing Hurricane Irma (2017) seems the same as starving in the midst of famine and reading about hunger.
But that’s just what I’m doing, reading Sylvia Plath’s incredible essay, “Ocean 1212-W.”
Why do it?
Because I’m learning that the world shrinks in the wake of an impending hurricane. Life takes on a different aura. The best way to describe the subtle change, I think, is to contemplate standing at a doorway, at the threshold, one foot poised above the divide, neither here nor there, in liminal space. But there’s no going back to the place where it all started, backwards, a week, a year, even a day. Each day brings the inevitable closer.
The forecasts and the onslaught of information, while lifesaving, wreak havoc on peace of mind.
It’s the waiting that curdles my soul, the slow, relentless movement toward the sureness of pounding rain, the jungle drum staccato, a veritable deluge of doom, filling sleepless nights not with dreams but with visions of Valkyries raging, slashing across the sky, riding lightning bolts instead of horses.
Nothing seems real any more. Life becomes a remake of a Stephen King novel, where characters move through the landscape, talking, scowling, opening doors, driving like maniacs, grimacing with toothy Chucky smiles.
CNN blares in the background, plunging the needle of despair deeper and deeper, parading the shell-shocked faces of the living and the dead. I watch, unable to turn away, my eyes staring, like the obsessive tonguing of a throbbing tooth.
Grocery stores bulge with people racing to get jugs of water, the environment be damned. So many plastic bottles. Carts filled to the brim, wallets plump and fat. The rich will survive. The poor, maybe.
Cars line up for blocks, fighting for gasoline, blocking traffic, snarling drivers shoving their way in line. The BMWs and the Benzs crowd out the Hondas and the Nissans.
Sunshine, a waif-like breeze sighing through the palms, upright, sentinels guarding the gates. Soon they may sprawl on the sandy ground, overcome by the screeching winds of a banshee storm.
Color drains from the greens of the landscape, as if God or the Great Designer applied one of those Photoshop filters to the scene, Bleach Bypass, sucking out all the hues, leaving nothing but bare bones.
Cans of cold red beans and bags of 5-grain crackers blanket the scarred oak table in my dining room, while plastic jugs and stainless-steel pans fill with water, insurance against the inevitable. The bathtub serves as a reservoir for the unmentionable functions of life, the ceaselessness of digestion that carries on and on.
Unlike earthquakes and heart attacks, at least with hurricanes resisters know their fate. There’s ample warning. If not death, then surely destruction and injury, flood waters and broken windows, electricity gone, its lack like an eye blinded by a flash of light.
All this I see, and don’t want to see. I drink in words from Matthew Arnold’s poem, “The Forsaken Merman,” words that spill into my already whirling thoughts. “This way, this way!” But what way, I ask, as did Sylvia Plath in her essay about living near the ocean, with its threat, including hurricanes?
COME, dear children, let us away
Down and away below.
Now my brothers call from the bay;
Now the great winds shoreward blow;
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
Children dear, let us away.
This way, this way!