This poem is by Twyla M. Hansen and she is currently the Nebraska State Poet [2013-2018]. It has a special appeal because it may be about – though I cannot be sure – the hail storm that I recall from around this time which hit, literally, my home town then of Norfolk Nebraska.
Not that I was there at the time. I was staying with my grandparents in Elk Horn, Iowa for a one week vacation in the summer. Whilst I was there, a hail storm had struck Norfolk [and if the poem is about the same event/time, it had a broad sweep] and when I returned home it was as if winter had set in: all of the leaves had been stripped from the trees in the road where my house was and as far as I can recall the rest of the town, and all of the roofing shingles seemed to have been obliterated from the houses – again, certainly on most of the those in my road.
I can’t be sure the Norfolk storm was 1965, but it seems about the time I would have been in Elk Horn [Hansen 16; me 10]. Another reason I can’t be sure is because such hail storms were relatively common [though I must confess, not to my knowledge in Norfolk, though I only lived there for about 1 to 2 years, in two different houses]. That area, and perhaps most of Nebraska/the midwestern states, were subject to tornadoes and similar – Norfolk was in a cyclonic area: this from distant memories – and so again storms were common. Indeed, in the first house I lived in there, all the downstairs rooms were slightly uneven because the house had been flooded on a number of occasions, being near a river, and I do recall my swing-set being destroyed during one heavy storm when a branch was ripped from a large tree in the garden to fall on it.
All of these storm ‘incidents’ have featured in my writing here and there, e.g. here – dramatic moments from childhood and therefore vivid memories. Thus my affinity for this poem, from Hansen’s book Potato Soup published by The Blackwaters Press:
Q: What is the largest hailstone in the US?
A: There have been six reports of hailstones eight inches in diameter.
-The Weather Channel
It was the summer I turned sixteen, one brother
was soon to be married and we’d sold the farm.
I remember wanting desperately to be kissed.
Everything wavered on some kind of edge, elm trees
a graceful dome over the dusty streets. Nothing to warn,
only cumulonimbus clouds in the afternoon, intense up—
drafts, sky hazed sulfur-green, hail starting as crystalline
seeds that grew to marble-size, geometrically then,
to the size of softballs, clattering heavy against metal,
wood, glass, against the only small world we knew.
All the west windows in the high school, every roof,
field corn stripped down to stubs, lives shattered
that day by crop failure, gouges, even holes in the ground.
There had never been any guarantee. Always there is
a risk, a gamble, hard choices to make. My oldest brother
and I scooped out stones that ripped through
the ragtop of his ’62 Impala. I can’t imagine hail the size
of a melon. Somehow that day I sensed that youth
had dissipated, that through the vapor of downed leaves
and broken branches, there would always be another crisis,
and another close call, and yet there was something more out there
circling, the open road where I drove west—my oldest brother dozing
in the passenger’s seat, my learners permit in tow—eighty on I-90
toward Missoula, toward the end of what we know now as innocence.