Hurricane Ike; What would Elizabeth Bishop do?

Hurricane Ike; What would Elizabeth Bishop do?

That’s Hurricane Ike about an hour ago, hopefully as close as he’ll come to Key West. Gusts woke us twice or three times in the night, but a look at the weather observations from Key West airport this morning reveals we’ve so far been spared even tropical-storm-force winds. All together, then, a preliminary sigh of relief. A cursory walk around old town this morning (it is a little windy for bicycle riding)– from the library to the waterfront– found little damage but leaves, flowers, and a few key limes littering the streets. Harpoon Harry’s is closed, but Pepe’s, dependable since the days of Hemingway, is open; we had breakfast at the open-air bar. The boats in the harbor are rocking, and the wind is humming-howling through their rigging. The gulf remains beneath the boardwalk where it belongs, although the rumor by radio and bar patrons is that the surf is up and in the streets on the ocean side of the island. Would that our friends and neighbors in Cuba, the Turks and Caicos, and Haiti had it so good.

Elizabeth Bishop knew how to react to storm-events such as this. In her letters from Key West, she writes of “fringes of hurricanes,” and “a small tornado … nothing of any consequence.” She knew to play it safe– as we should until Ike has certainly passed. In the untitled poem which follows, a twenty-something Elizabeth adumbrates the significant pleasures to be found indoors in such a storm:

     It is marvellous to wake up together
     At the same minute; marvellous to hear
     The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
     To feel the air suddenly clear
     As if electricity had passed through it
     From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
     All over the roof the rain hisses,
     And below, the light falling of kisses.

     An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
     It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
     If lightning struck the house now, it would run
     From the four blue china balls on top
     Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
     And we imagine dreamily
     How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
     Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;

     And from the same simplified point of view
     Of night and lying flat on one’s back
     All things might change equally easily,
     Since always to warn us there must be these black
     Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
     The world might change to something quite different,
     As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
     Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

Untitled Elizabeth Bishop poem from Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box, edited by Alice Quinn, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006.

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