This poem, by former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, is about Hurricane Camille, which made landfall some fifty years ago. As we enter another hurricane season and track the terrifying path of Dorian, the sentiments Trethewey’s poem communicates feel present and prescient. The poem’s meandering line breaks seem equally to map the unpredictable path of the storm – Camille traveled from Cuba to the Gulf Coast, up through St. Louis, then east through the Appalachian Mountains – and the pell-mell devastation it left in its wake.
In particular, the poem’s final stanzas speak to the truth that loss of land signifies much more than a loss of material property. Disasters like Camille and Dorian uproot families and homes, literally and figuratively. Even when no lives are lost, the social and economic upheaval leave people adrift:
Like water trembling and disappearing, these catastrophes have the capacity to sweep away the “reflection” – the sense of self-determination, connection and identity – of the communities that called that place home. From Katrina to Harvey to Maria, this is a familiar story in the United States, as is the truth that vulnerable people are disproportionately harmed by these weather events.
As a community of faith, we are faced with the challenge of what to do, how to respond. Our prayer – our holy attention directed toward the people affected – is important. Arousing compassion through poetry is one means to engage this way. But also important is our commitment. Our commitment to educate ourselves on the structural factors such as racism and classism that make these events particularly catastrophic. And our commitment to provide material support such as we can.
Here are some organizations collecting funds for hurricane relief: