In nineteen forty-nine,
when the Walter Shuhler farm
was about fixed up as a dairy,
a cyclone came up Butter Valley,
Sunday evening, "a little before nine —
twenty minutes to nine," the sky darkened.
"We were in the barn. Didn't hurry.
We had this and that to do,
but as we came to the house,
we saw it was very black,
and I noticed a flickering, I said to Florence,
'It's a cyclone over the hill there.'
I recognized it from Kansas,
we ran then. I wanted to pull the electric switch
in the cellar. I told the family,
'Keep away from the window.'
Lucky they were all inside.
When I pulled the switch, it was pitch dark.
I could see flashes. I could see rafters fly over
I didn't know they were from my own house.
There was a kind of deep roaring hum
that the wind and pressure make.
Everything was rocking and shaking,
whatever could shake. It was over
in about fifteen seconds.
We were the worse hit in the valley.
The house roof was off altogether,
and the chimneys. Most of the windows frames
were pushed right in. Outside,
everything was mashed up. The silos down.
All the big trees were over, flattened.
You can still see the stumps.
It came from the south
and was only a few hundred feet wide.
We were hit right in the middle.
If it wasn't for the house that split it,
it would have taken the barn. As it was,
when the house split it,
one part went down this way
and took the roof off a small pig stable.
The other part went that way
and took a chicken house, everything —
took it all away. The chickens
were scattered on the hill and next day
came walking back. I heard a few
were down in Clayton close to that
manufacturing place down there.
The barn wasn't hit
but on the barn side near the house
about fifteen feet of boards
broke where the house roof blew against it
and pushed the frame about two inches.
But just so the barn stayed. Lucky
the cattle were in the barn, it didn't hurt them.
I had started to make a hen house
out of a temporary croncrib.
I had two two-by-fours
nailed with eightpenny nails,
and the wind tore one of them to pieces
and din't touch the other.
Still it wasn't as bad as a fire.
But it was bad enough.
The trees that were over broke fences.
We were most of the night clearing the lane.
The next day,
shingles, tin, and nails lying all over
in the meadow and the fields.
If the cows eat wire or nails,
it will kill them, so we carefully
cleaned off the meadow first — that was still
where we mainly fed the cows —
and let the cows out. We put
a canvas over the house roof
and four days later, by Thursday,
we had the roof back on.
It was a cyclone, all right. Strange,
there never was one before
and never was one before
and never has been one since.
I've seen it in Kansas, a cloud
let down a wind funnel that would shoot along
faster than you could run
and everything it touched was gone.
But who'd think
that Kansas would chase you here?"
Poems of the Pennsyvania Dutch
a gem of a book, published when Millen Brand was nearly 70 years old, having written the collection over some thirty-five years. Brand is Pennsylvania German on his mother's side and lived for many years on Crow Hill near Bally amongst the farmers, tradesmen, factory workers, women and children and fellow storytellers. There is no book of poems like this one. The poems John Berger drew out of rural France in Pig Earth is akin, as is Drum Hadley's Borderland, and I'll be drawing from both those books over the next few weeks.
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