PALMETTO POEM: Carolina Umbra

Perspective view of Hurricane Hugo on Sept. 21, 1989,  by GOES-7 satellite as the hurricane approaches Charleston, S.C.  Photo via Wikimedia Commons.



Editor’s Note:  S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth, who picks our monthly Palmetto Poem, penned this poem in the days after Hurricane Hugo pummeled South Carolina in 1989.  With wind and rain whipping from the Lowcountry through Georgia and Florida today, we thought it was especially appropriate.

By Marjory Wentworth, contributing editor

Boats fly out of the Atlantic
and moor themselves in my backyard
where tiny flowers, forgotten
by the wind, toss their astral heads
from side to side.  Mouths ablaze, open,
and filling with rain.

After the hurricane, you can see
the snapped open drawbridge slide
beneath the waves on the evening news.
You go cold imagining
such enormous fingers of wind
that split a steel hinge until
its jaw opens toward heaven.

Above the twisted house,
above this island, where the torn
churches have no roofs, and houses
move themselves around the streets
as if they were made of paper;
tangled high in the oak branches,\
my son’s crib quilt waves its pastel flag.

But the crib rail is rusted shut.
And you can’t see my children
huddled together on the one dry bed
of this home filling with  birds
that nest in corners of windowless rooms,
or insects breeding in the damp sand
smeared like paint over the swollen floors.

The storm will not roar in your sleep
tonight, as if the unconscious
articulations of an animal aware
of the end of its life were trapped
in the many cages of your brain.

You can’t see grief darken the wind
rising over the islands.  Tonight,
as the burning mountains of debris
illuminate the sky for hundreds of miles,
I see only the objects of my life
dissolving in a path of smoke.

All the lost and scattered hours
are falling completely out of time.
where endless rows of shredded trees wait
with the patience of unburied
skeletons, accumulating in the shadows.





  1. Linda Wehrle says:

    This is incredible. Thank you.

  2. This is incredible. Thank you.