The full version of Hurricanes will be published in 2017 in TEACHES OF PEACHES, a winner of the TAR Chapbook Series.
As the skies darkened on Sunday, October 28, I watched my mom excitedly look for a box of candles and matches, preparing for Sandy’s worst. She asked my sister to put a big pot of water on the stove and that was it: candles, matches, and a pot of water to get us through the storm.
Bored and, at the moment, unimpressed by what would turn out to be a catastrophic weather event on levels I could hardly fathom, I sat at the dining room table and entertained my mom as she told us about another hurricane—this one in Haiti some decades ago—and why the number twelve is the absolute worst.
“Today, you can’t even say the number twelve to Haitian people. You have thirteen. We have twelve.”
By “you” she meant her children and their American compatriots. America’s unlucky number is thirteen. Haiti’s, according to her, is twelve. So, so close. One right after the other.
She proceeded to tell me a story about a hurricane that hit her village on October 12, 1954, tearing apart the island, destroying about 50% of the cacao crop, and resulting in the deaths of at least one thousand people. Like the rest of the Caribbean, Haiti is no stranger to hurricane season. The storms come and go, they ravage, and people quickly get to rebuilding. But this storm, Hazel was her name—it was a monster, a bet, un jab. Apparently, my maternal grandmother, who had been pregnant at the time, opened the front door to her home just for a look at the mal temps and miscarried right then and there.
“That’s crazy,” was my genuinely bewildered response, even if it didn’t sound like it (because I never sound surprised or alarmed). But it really was—is—crazy: the image of this woman opening the door to her home, the home I visited for the first time two summers ago, and having an uncontrollable, Chaotic force of nature snatch the life right out of her.
I thought, how cruel, but not calculating, are the things we can’t control. I thought of my birth mother, who in 1988, passed away too young and too soon from what seemed to be another outrageously fleeting encounter with chaotic nature. I thought of my father, who nine years after that also died, a few months after an accident that, too, seemed so sudden.
And then I thought about time and how slowly it seethes. How it coats like molasses or Robitussin. I thought about the journey my mother had time to take before she died—getting sick here in Brooklyn, but flying back to southwest Haiti, where her body now rests in a mausoleum on a hill in a small village called Fond Rouge. I thought about how long it took for me to hear that story, almost twenty-five years and still not at all complete. I thought about how even more incomplete the story surrounding my father’s death is. How two years ago, my mom let a few details about it—unforgettable, unforgivable words—slip out of her mouth like a hurricane: without much control or idea of the damage it could cause. I thought about how the moment had passed, also like a hurricane. The violent seas of discovery that had vehemently parted closed just as quickly, drowning any sad chance at truth. Instead of opening the door, for fear of having the life snatched out of me, I stayed inside as though nothing were happening…