Photo: New York Times
It's a stunning image, this Virgin Mary that survived Breezy Point's fire during Hurricane Sandy. I knew I wanted to write a poem about the storm, especially since my sister-in-law and her family have been displaced, their home in New Jersey not far from the coast. The details are ripe: her husband sump pumped their foundation, and fish came flushing out; their Formica buckled in the days following from the humidity; hulks of destroyed furniture and appliances rest outside houses in their neighborhood, blocking school bus paths; there is rumor the whole neighborhood will have to be torn down and rebuilt. And Nikky Finney's metaphor of not going through the door (because the door is on fire) but through a window has really strapped itself to the poetry-thinking spot of my brain. I imagine myself holding a balloon or a soft ball, testing its spring, probing it for that entry-point. A poem so personal--hearing Megan on the phone with her mother, our being safe in the Midwest, Megan telling us the firetrucks were going down the street, announcing a voluntary evacuation, having spent weeks in their home watching their two boys (they now also have a daughter who just turned a year old), becoming familiar with the pathways--a poem about this home could be vulnerable, yes, because the storm creates that vulnerability, but it couldn't be rife with overwrought emotion. This statue became my window, my entry. She's known as Star of the Sea, a lodestar, and I began to link prayer and gratitude between the house and the statue, and the poem slowly formed. It felt so good--I got to research, learn about what sorts of fish are in season on the New Jersey coast and learn about this Catholic symbol. I love it when a poem feels like a puzzle, feels like you have all these bits that should fit together, but you're not quite sure how, and you adjust and slowly pull at the edges of words, tug, tug, tight.