Aug. 18, 2005

Hailstorm, 1965

by Twyla Hansen

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Poem: "Hailstorm, 1965" by Twyla Hansen, from Potato Soup. © The Backwaters Press. Reprinted with permission.

Hailstorm, 1965

     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.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Paula Danziger, born in Washington, D.C. (1944). Her father often yelled at her as she was growing up in New York, and she told herself that someday she'd use it in a book. In 1974, she did, in a book for young adults called The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. She followed it up with many more, including Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? (1979).

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Brian Aldiss, born in Norfolk, England (1925). He's the author of many science fiction novels and collections of short stories, including Supertoys Last All Summer Long (2001), which was the basis for the Steven Spielberg movie A.I. His most recent novel is Super-State: A Novel of a Future Europe (2002).

It's the birthday of explorer Meriwether Lewis, born just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, (1774). He was the man that Thomas Jefferson chose to explore the new Louisiana Territory in 1804, and he in turn asked William Clark to be his partner on the journey.

Lewis was the younger man of the two, and whereas Clark was easy-going and friendly, Lewis was quiet and intellectual. Lewis kept meticulous journals and recorded everything they saw: prairie dogs, grizzly bears, Native American tribes both friendly and hostile. When the account of the expedition was collected and published, most of the words were Lewis'.

Among the many written observations of geography, Indian customs, and flora and fauna, Lewis also sent back specimens to Thomas Jefferson of the most interesting things he'd found. Among the varied items were several living animals: four magpies, one Sharp-tailed Grouse, and one black-tailed prairie dog. The prairie dog and one of the magpies arrived in good health, and they spent the rest of their days in the nation's capital.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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