My Eyes Were Watching God


I know I haven’t posted in a week, but grades are due in TWO days! And a sister is so completely frazzled.

That’s bad enough, but last Monday there was a tornado in the town I live in, and it touched down a few blocks from my home. It destroyed so many fences, and around the corner, there’s a tree that’s lifted a few feet out of the ground. It looks a tooth that was only half-pulled. Worse than that, there are some people who died in the storm. Fences you can rebuild, but you can’t bring someone back to life. It’s a sad thing.

And this isn’t my first encounter with a tornado. I drove through one nine years ago.

Sidebar: The number nine is very powerful in the African Diaspora, I am starting to learn. I’m wondering if the Yoruba Orisha Oya is my patron saint, keeping me safe, because nine is her number. I placed an offering to her on my altar last night, just in case.

And no, there was no place to run during the first tornado. Do you think I WANTED to drive through a tornado?

So forgive me while I’ve been trying to get myself together. I wanted my mama so bad last week, I swear. I know I’m too old to sit on her lap, but if I could just sit next to her, holding her hand for as long as she would let me, and touching her salt and pepper hair–that would be happiness. I’m trying not to feel sorry for myself, but if I liked to imbibe, I’d be drunk as Cooter Brown to deal. Instead, I gotta keep my job and give these kids grades for the semester.

Here’s a poem that I wrote a few years ago, to tell you what I mean. And please stay strong with me, y’all. I’ll be back real soon.

———

Word on Earth

I take the land as text, as a preacher might,
or a deceived ecstatic hoping for signs.
Now prairie, where I’ve squatted
for three years but before,
I found my mind in red clay.

Come back, child is a call too strong
for me, a woman grown–June, the month
of emancipation, decides the time.
I’m headed home out of Oklahoma,
on to Georgia.

I follow the interstate line, straight
like a good girl, then down.
Never as the crow flies, but through back
roads my folks wouldn’t trust fifty years ago.
I seek those blues-tinged drawls, clingstone
peaches, clichéd porch swings,
keep on past cattle, flat fields, oil wells.

Sixteen hours of driving in tornado
season, my anxiously searching
for telltale gray-green horizons
in the rearview mirror.
Once leaving Georgia and reaching
and unknown part of Illinois–
I can’t say where now–
I saw a funnel cloud.
The sky was lovely, an unholy shade.
Then a shitting down of hail:
the Word written on Earth.

I knew the end was upon me.
My bowels almost released–
I felt like Janie.
I prayed with a clean heart
then drove through to clear skies.
I swore to myself, to my mama,
to God above,
I’d never leave Dixie if I saw it again.
I lied, forgive me.
Red clay, I lied.

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