Witness From Tornado Alley

I've never seen one in person,
though I've heard and felt plenty.
I say it up front for honesty's sake
that none may say he heard me claim
to be something I'm not:
I wasn't there when Enterprise got hit.
Take this as you will. For my part,
I've learned a thing or two about the drill
and what it's like alone in the dark.
It's a part of life here for any who live alone
or ever watch the weather from a porch or on TV
for want of company.  Neighbors spread thin
this far from town, and Church is for Sundays.
That's what I'm on about, this God of ours,
and to set the record straight as I'm able.
The Greeks believed all we ever saw of him
was lightning thrown down from a mountain.
If in our myth it got no worse than God's
getting angry, lightning would do fine:
he'd throw bolts to get our attention;
we'd never see his face
or have  to learn what he really wanted.
From what I know of weather,
none of us is getting off that easy.
Lightning doesn't come down to stay,
but dips a little toe in and skips away,
never to return.  I don't deny its place;
a good strike may fell a tree,
or start a fire, but no more than a man
with an axe or a match could do.
Tornadoes aren't like that,
whole forests laid flat
with no more effort than a mother takes
to rustle her child's hair across his head.
I've seen lots stripped to their slabs,
steps of brick climbing to where a porch was.
These plots makes me wonder what I'd say
about Emmanuel's being a tornado
if it'd been Cullman or a suburb of Birmingham
that caught the worst of it
rather than some town where I've never lived,
nor any of my kin.  Ask Enterprise yourself,
I'll not speak for them.  All I have to share
is the terror of common experience.
When the sirens blow,
if it's not the first Wednesday
of the month when they test them,
I know the danger's close and do as I was taught:
open a window or door at either end, then move
to the closet at the center of the house
and lock the door.  The heavy coats hang about
as wind moves across the floor,
trying to get out.  Maybe it's pulled out,
I can never tell, and am too bewildered
to find it there before me.
The poultry farmer up the road says,
"The weather without howls for the weather within."
That’s the way of it, though whether
it’s the wind within or the wind without
that takes our human property
I don’t know.  Times are I can’t stand it
but bury my face and pray.
For what, I couldn't say.  

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