[encore] 812: September

[encore] 812: September

[encore] 812: September

This episode was originally released on February 13, 2023.


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Late one evening, sirens blared while my wife and I slept. This happened shortly after we moved to Nashville. I merely turned over, but she shook me until I awoke, dazed, not really sure what was going on.

Her voice firm and steady, she said, Come on! Let’s go! Scrambling with blankets behind us down the stairs, I fumbled, What’s going on? Where? She yelled behind her, Tornado warning! To the basement! At least she knew that much, to go to the lowest point in the house. I probably would have crawled beneath the bed and fallen back asleep.

Having resided in Vermont for nearly two decades, I’ve experienced many winter storms. I’m pretty skilled at preparing for a Nor’easter. Pillar candles, kerosene lamps, and flashlights in case of power outage. Check. Kindling and firewood for heat. Check. A weather radio, jugs of water, boxes of mac and cheese, and of course, wine. Check. Check. Check, and check. I love to hunker down while the outside world is hushed by a blizzard of snow.

But a tornado? Clueless. No idea.

We zipped it to the basement. We positioned an unbagged futon on the floor from our recent move among boxes and furniture and began constructing our own tornado watch center. We sat in the dark with only the glow of cellphones as our light source and listened to local newscasters list off nearby counties and wind speeds. I texted my friend Tony, a longtime resident of Nashville. Dude! A tornado? What should we do? He wrote back two words: bike helmets, which we promptly put on our heads. Check.

Then, Didi said, “Major, we forgot Finn.” Our floppy terrier. On my way to retrieve the dog, I stopped to look outside. Wind and rain slashed at the living room windows. Off in the distance lightning flared like liquid bolts of silver light. I couldn’t help it; I opened the door and slowly stepped outside.

How to describe the feeling? My whole body tingled with the beautiful sensation of danger. It must have been all those ions in the air. Some part of me wanted to see in real time a rotational vortex, a funnel cloud of high-powered winds, in action.

Today’s gorgeous poem invokes the enigmatic energy of an impending storm, the kind that mesmerizes, that beckons us to read the symbolism of nature, that points to both destruction and life.

by Nathaniel Perry

This is the time of year when storms
spin up from distant dust
and sand and make their way to us,
and we worry and adjust

the scales we carry in our heads
to account for luck and prayer.
We buy batteries and candles, cords
and water to prepare.

There are three trees beside the house 
that rarely catch my eye
except in these days when I measure
all things against the sky

or what the sky might bring to us.
I worry and adjust
the scales inside my head and wonder
what to do or if I just

need to know some secret thing 
someone who isn’t me
would certainly know: which way the wind
will blow up from the sea,

or how to navigate a sea
of worry. I worry my scales—
their beams worn as thin by now as the
‘venetian blinds’ that whales

have stretched across their mouths in a grin.
That’s Melville’s phrase, the ‘blinds’
bit, which for him was an exotic
compliment, the kind

of referent few might have, so not
like now, when we think of aisles
and aisles of cheap window hangings,
nineteenth-century style

gone rogue and bad, like a hurricane.
Melville loved his whales,
even though one destroyed his book’s
boat and then his whole

career. I can’t love these storms.
It makes sense that what commands
our fear might also command our love,
but I hate that type of demand,

the kind where nature wags its jeweled
fingers over us
and makes us look up in awe; we can’t help
but look. Goddam that fussy

bastard, I want to say, but I look,
and I weigh out my worry
and my scales aren’t balanced in my hurry,
and I hurry and hurry.

“September” by Nathaniel Perry. Used by permission of the poet.