On Sunday, August 28, Irene cried on my village, destroying whole sections of it. Gratefully, no life has been lost, but friends’ and neighbors’ homes have been washed away – along with their land and belongings. Roads are gone, bridges broken. I suffered no property damage, but I am changed by the devastation – and I’m not just talking about the inconvenience of closed roads.
Since the storm, I’ve been doing what I can for local relief. As always, in times of crisis I resort to my two mainstays: food and words. By Tuesday, I’d organized potluck dinners at our community hall, where those with power could bring covered dishes and those without power could eat hot food. We held four of these dinners last week. Others have organized a daily hot breakfast at the hall.
Not only do we feed people at these meals, but we also gather and disseminate information at them. All of us – those who lost nothing, those who lost all and those somewhere in between these extremes – take comfort not just from the food, but also from the fellowship that is part of helping one another in time of need. We need to see and hear and reassure each other that life will go on, we will continue, we’ll get through this – and be stronger for it.
I may have started the potluck dinners, but others have stepped up to do the heavy lifting, from working the phones for food donations to cooking, serving, and washing up after. By Irene-plus-five, it became clear that we were emerging from our shock and starting to adjust to this new normal of a drastically changed landscape and vastly different civic circumstances. By then, I’d already filed a Commentary for Vermont Public Radio. But we needed more. We needed poetry.
I’ve been gathering, printing and posting poems for public consumption. Because we don’t just need food, shelter and clothing. We also need poetry to soothe our souls and give us ‘that thing with feathers’ – what Emily Dickinson called Hope.
Deborah Lee Luskin often writes about Vermont, where she has lived since 1984. She is a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, a Visiting Scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council and the author of the award winning novel, Into The Wilderness. For more information, visit her website at www.deborahleeluskin.com