Friday, July 11, 2008

Every day

I went looking the other day for what, in 1957, was the Hector Subdivision in north Fargo, where Maria Sanderson, the first person injured by the tornado, lived. In 1957, this was on the very outskirts of Fargo on what was then Highway 10. It’s now all built over as an industrial park. Still, I could find the basic area where the house stood.

After a year in the hospital Sanderson was released but never fully recovered from her injuries. She died of a stroke in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 24, 1964 and is buried in Sunset Memorial Gardens in Fargo.

1. Hector Subdivision

Even with the photocopied township map
printed in 1951, the homestead is nearly impossible to find.
These are streets now, not backroads.
And the highway has become a four-laned artery.

Finally, finding the mile line
and County Drain 40, we can almost make it out.
There, behind those buildings
a line of oak stand, older than
anything else here, older too,
than the storm. And from them,
we can almost make it out—
a ghost house, a ghost field,
a ghost landscape from some 1950s past.

It was here she lived and
it was here she stood that night
when the storm came rolling through
from the northwest.
It says so, right there on the map—
a shaded-in oblong of land
called Hector Sub-Division.
This was Theofil’s land—
her husband. And there,
near the curb of the street,
the mailbox stood—
Rural Free Delivery #2.

It’s Industrial Park now—
huge metal-walled complexes
on main streets and back streets.
Metal building complexes
cover what was then a clover field,
a wheat field, a field of corn.
And in the distance, where the city
glowed into the sky at night, there is no night.
The glow surrounds this place now,
nudging the night sky further
toward some even more obscure distance.

There, where the funnel first stomped the ground,
twirling and twisting into itself
there is cement. And where it came through here
at an angle before turning into the city—
parking lots and semi trucks.

There where the silo stood
and was knocked to the ground,
a water tower—
ballooning into the sky
in red and white swirls.
And where the fence leaned to the ground in the wind,
identical storage units
as uniforms as the niches in a columbarium.

Look here for her—
look in the cement and plowed over lawn,
pace out the distance from those trees
and there is nothing—
not even a foundation of a house,
not even a brick or a rusted nail.

And when you think to yourself
of the sadness of this complete disappearance,
remind yourself that this too awaits you,
and even less than this.
Who, one day, will walk the paved over
remnants of your homestead,
following the heel-to-toe pattern
of your house? Who will, in some vague gray
future, look for the place you were when
you looked up and saw your darkest fear
staring you down from the sky above you?

2. February 24, 1964

after Olav H. Hauge

The storm is gone now—
it is behind you
in some other place
on good days
you can barely remember.

Not once
in this time since
have you ever asked
why was it I was born?
nor even where?
from where is it I came? where is it I am going?
You were just there—
in the storm,
in the churning wind.

See, it is possible
to live every day.
It is possible to get up,
to go to your garden, to
rake the dying leaves into a pile and set them afire.

The whole day is there, to think about
and there aren’t enough hours in it
or in one’s whole lifetime to consider it all.

And when it’s done, you can sit down
and listen as a wind softer and more exotic
than the one you hear in your nightmares
comes to you, touching your face
and whispering to you in a language
as strange, yet beautiful
as Chinese
or Norwegian.

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