I’m sitting out the winds of Hurricane Irene in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where the basement of this house is starting to flood, a siren is going off somewhere, and the power has flickered off—and on, and off, and on—for the last hour, though the full brunt of the storm has yet to hit.
But everything I own is in a creekside storage depot in Queens, as we wait to move into our new place next week; I’m thus finding it hard to fall asleep thinking of the fact that we’ve moved back to the east coast just in time, potentially, to have everything ruined and swept away into an industrial canal in New York City. But that’s the way things go.
[Image: Photo by Chris Woebken, from his Flickr account].
In any case, artist Chris Woebken, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working as part of the Landscape Futures exhibition over in Reno, has been posting some photos today, showing New York City on lockdown, with plywood walls appearing in what once were windows and new facades popping up in a flash atop old storefronts.
Extreme weather brings its own architectural ornament, a whole family of plug-in and bolt-on designs that would otherwise have lain dormant as everyday materials, sleeping on the shelves of Home Depot.
But being back out in the suburbs of my teenage years—and hurriedly evacuating the family basement—also means that I’ve stumbled upon a bunch of old books, and it seems vaguely appropriate to quote a brief excerpt from a poem by John Balaban.
Balaban treats the impending weather above him as a kind of aerial organism, a gargantuan meteorology of displaced marine life passing ominously through the sky:
Toward dawn, two nimbus clouds drifted in,
the larger—trailing down tendrils of rain
like a Portuguese man-o’-war—began to pulse
with lightning, brightening its belly like a huge lantern,
arcing a jagged streak
to ignite the smaller cloud.
Pulsing and flaring, striking each other,
dragging the earth with rain,
they drifted off over the mountains.
All about them the sky was clear.
The storm is a memorable presence, entering lives and leaving again, both animate and terrible.