Picture courtesy of Rosa Frei for OneShootSunday

Your eyes swerve to avoid distress they’ve known.
I felt that burn once; it taught me
the force of wind and sand that steals
reality and turns a face into the picture of pain.
That day the sandstorm built in the night
so fierce that it stole the sun leaving
only a frightening howl of blowing blackness
that coated every living thing that bent beneath it.
That monster storm howling tornado screams
with its wind force and taunted even the
fin backed cars built of gleaming chrome and steel
with its overwhelming blackness.

For the children the fear clutched at their innards
as their parents shrugged at the monster outside the door.
They served up depression tales with breakfast cereal
and they had no idea how scared their darlings were.
The children didn’t understand how many times
their parents had to shake their fears in the face of monsters.
This didn’t compare to Hitler. A 50s child had no marker.
This was the worst thing in nature they’d ever seen
and every child who lived through that day
remembers it as though it were yesterday

© Gay Reiser Cannon * 5.1.2011 * All Rights Reserved

22 thoughts on “SANDSTORM

  1. They served up depression tales with breakfast cereal…and…the force of wind and sand that steals
    reality and turns a face into the picture of pain…love this gay…

  2. Pain can be a great teacher. And some of your lines are strait-up cyclonic! “That monster storm howling tornado screams” wow. The second stanza turns the corner a bit and addresses the inheritance of fears and indelibly etched memories… A great poem, Gay. I think you’re an amazing writer.

  3. You’ve drawn a skillful parallel from the general to the poet’s particular, making an experience transcend the subject, laying bare the universality of what we all face and deal with as humans on the most basic levels. Fine language, too. Well said all around, Gay.

  4. I’m going to ask the obvious question here, because I want to make sure I’m interpreting this correctly:

    Is this poem about the atomic bomb?

    I’m racking my brain to figure out if it’s something else, and I can’t think of anything that’s on the scale of Hitler, so I’m pretty certain. I also don’t mind asking dumb questions. 😀

    Love “monster outside the door,” and “depression tales with breakfast cereal.”

    Good work!

  5. Powerful words conveying a painful message here… very beautifully written, Gay.. it scorches a heart to read of suffering, but you’ve brought it out really masterfully!

  6. The images and emotion you’ve brought to this piece are profound as anyone who’s seen what the winds on the plains can forge. And yet, you showed how it can always be worse. Just ask those Dust Bowl farmers, the ones who went to bed in Texas and woke up blown into Oklahoma. Loved this, Gay.

  7. An interesting poem that reads from one protagonist in the first stanza to another in the second. I see the connection, but they almost feel like different poems, as the style just seems to change.
    Every generation has their crosses to bear I suppose, but really my worst is “my” worst and to compare turns it into a crowing match. Hard to compare to Hitler, but a tornado is certainly not a nice thing to live through either. Violent times.

    • I don’t know if the tone changes but the focus does change from addressing the man in the photo to the general reader in telling the story. I think that happens in blank verse and was something I consciously wanted to employ as it is a characteristic of using that form. The poem as I wrote it was about four pages long before I ran out of time to work on it. I tightened the first lines, broke it into two stanzas and posted this. Perhaps I’ll work on honing the rest of it as a metaphor for the fifties in America.

  8. My father talks about the dust bowl and he was in Minnesota…the memories stay for ever for children who live through such events…well done Gay…bkm

  9. Riveting… I read a book I NEVER forgot and I still have it. I want all my children to read it someday. “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan.

  10. Thank each of you for coming by and reading. I wrote this in response to the photo prompt you see above. I began with the picture and it turned into a VERY very long poem about a sandstorm that engraved itself on our memories. It lasted for twenty four hours. I was asked if it was an atomic bomb. That’s also something many of us have asked for many years. This occurred in the Texas panhandle in 1952. They were testing in New Mexico above ground and our winds always blew in from the north or northwest. Was it the result of a bomb or something else? They were making the hydrogen bomb on the other side of our town. No one reported on it on the news and adults didn’t think it unusual. By the time I was forty, the population of Amarillo had triple the cancer rate of the rest of the U.S.

    My mother lived there until she died. No other event was like it. We lived through lots of sandstorms but they were at least semi-opaque. This was a swirling blackout in winds of near tornado level. I was lifted up on the way to school and blown fifty feet toward a neighbor’s house where I crawled to the door and rode out the day. We were all made to go to school.

    The reference to Hitler was only that there are all kinds of monsters and this one was as tangible and life-threatening to us as the depression and Hitler had been to our parents. It’s hard to impress on someone the fear of having to walk to school in something howling, blowing black sand so dense one can’t see through it. No one would be made to walk in something like that now. Schools would probably be canceled. But our parents (and we all agreed on it) universally thought we could walk a few blocks in it. Wind and dirt were familiars to them.

    • I’m glad I asked the question, because it brings a whole new depth to the poem. Memories like this should not be forgotten by humanity if we are to survive collectively. Thanks for sharing!

  11. the poem struck me as a description of “haboobs” ~ dust storms miles wide and miles high with sand so thick you can’t breathe. to my knowledge, Arizona is the only state which has these storms which are better known as occuring in the Arabian Desert. we get at least one a year here in Phoenix.

    to hear your description of the reality of that day… the probability of it having been from testing an atomic/hydrogen bomb… terrifying! i hope you post the longer version at some point. this portion is amazing!

  12. pain and darkness are the greatest teacher of all for if we have not known opression and struggle, how can we relate it to others? It makes us strong, and from one strong woman to another Gay, this piece absolutley took the photograph and made it come alive before my eyes. Seems a lot was ironed over in the 50’s which we know look back at as a golden era of post war growth. Powerful write x

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