Monday, April 23, 2012

`The Wind Defines Their Possibilities'

Friends in Galveston who lost their house to Hurricane Ike in 2008 have a copy of Paul Lester’s The Great Galveston Disaster, flamboyantly subtitled Containing a Full and Thrilling Account of the Most Appalling Calamity of Modern Times. It’s actually their second copy because they lost the first when their house flooded four years ago. Ike was a drizzle compared to the Great Galveston Disaster that hit the island on Sept. 8, 1900. The death toll may have topped 12,000.

Lester’s was a journalistic rush job, published just months after the storm. The style is purest yellow journalism, with a photo of a bloated corpse on the cover, and the chapter titles are comparably garish:

“Human Bodies in Fire Heap”
“Miss Pixley’s Graphic Story”
“Conditions that Beggar Description”
“Robbery and Mutilation of the Dead”
“Dead Animals Carried Across the Bay”
“The Stench Unbearable”
“White Men and Negroes Plunder Together”

Sunday was brilliantly sunny and calm in Galveston. We walked the beach for an hour, collecting shells, sea glass and blackened nails so crusted with corrosion they resembled Parodi cigars. In a pool formed by a breakwall of Texas pink granite, we almost caught a crab. A wine bottle with a broken neck was wedged between two automobile-sized chunks of stone, under water, the jagged edge worn smooth by waves. To move it would break it. In “Lichens” (Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems, 2007), Eric Ormsby writes of the title organism:

“At evening they gleam bleakly in exact
Configurations and their order is fiercer
Than the sea’s: their drab arabesques
Look splotchy, rust-wept or scaly as dead bark;
Far-off they’re star-like, spiky as galaxies.
Like us they clutch and grip their chilly homes
And the wind defines their possibilities.”

1 comment:

Sarang said...

I am strongly reminded, by last two lines of Lichens passage, of Charles Wright's "Homage to Paul Cezanne":

At night, in the fish-light of the moon, the dead wear our white shirts
To stay warm, and litter the fields.
We pick them up in the mornings, dewy pieces of paper and scraps of cloth.
Like us, they refract themselves. Like us,
They keep on saying the same thing, trying to get it right.
Like us, the water unsettles their names.