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.

Sponsor this poem

Would you like to sponsor this poem? Find out how here.

Recordings

Books by Heather McHugh