Poem introduction

I owe these two poems to human voices I heard at different times on NPR (National Public Radio). I tried to catch the flavour and in some cases the parlances of what they said. The first one was a woman whose language I didn't know - her English was pretty fractured and it was immediately compelling because you couldn't tell to what degree the facture of the English was a question of her command of the language or a question of the pressure of the event she was talking about.

Acts of God

I. Tornado

I said the people come inside.
They would be safe in the room.
So many of those people die.
You can see my guilt.

I could see
hands to a lady moving.
I knew the lady.
You can see my guilt.

Sometimes I want to run, to get
away from it. I ask forgiveness
night and day. I ask it from
the cemetery. I can never
dream this storm away.

It was over for maybe minutes.
Then it was never over.


II. Lightning

It pushed me backward, I could see
my friends go backward too,
as from a blast, but slowly,
very slowly, everything
was in a different time.

It burned inside my body.
I could feel my hands
curl up. My pocket got
on fire. I didn't want to reach in there
and take a handful of the hot: my money hurt.

I'm different now forever. Put that fact
into your book. My hair used to be straight.
My eyes - you see? They're gray as ash.
They used to be light blue. You live,

if you're lucky, but take my word:
It changes how you look.

'Acts of God' from Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994), © Heather McHugh 1994, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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Books by Heather McHugh