29. Storm: February 17, 1934 (Visibility 9 miles, Duration 27 hours)

“Well, it’s a grassfire.
Well, it sure does look like
Grassfire. Look at that.”
They rode into town early,
Black wobbly cars
That rambled in from farms.
In this country,
All that you could see
You’d seen before–
Or your folks,
Or someone’s folks,
Had seen.
Not so now.

Prairie fire they had seen,
Started by a fool’s cigar,
Sparks from cars–
Even lightning.
“Prairie fire ain’t so quiet,
Like this is”: Old Gil,
By the Red and White.
“You heared it snap and roar,
You smelled the smoke.
Can’t smell nothing now like smoke.”
They agreed, close-clustered,
Staring down the main street
At the sky.

At the earth’s curve,
Hardly to be seen– they were
Farmers, and they saw–
Thin dark line.
It lay the longest time,
Not rising or receding, only
Teasing them, a joke
That hung in air
And would not fade.
Since they’d waked,
They’d all turned eyes toward it,
Through all their morning chores.
Wives commented on it,
Stringing clothes.
It stayed. They washed up
And drove to town.

“Cloud’s bigger than it used to be.
That’s sure.”
Lloyd held his hand out
Level to the ground,
Taking measure of the sky.
“That band.
Half a width before.
Now full hand’s width.
Could be fire.”
It had begun to widen,
Rising from within itself
Like bulging smoke.

No. Not fire. Too
Quiet, Tom thought. And when
Talking stopped,
A soundlessness plunged down
To plug their ears.
It gave Tom a chill:
Like in school,
When he’d talked out of turn.
The principal was sent for.
Waiting by his desk, silence
Had swum in Thomas’ head–
Dreadful, wise,
The tittering of children–
The silence of a bad thing
On its way.
Lloyd lit a pipe.

A Coke bottle
Rocked at Thomas’ feet,
Scraping gently on the ground.
He felt tugs at his sleeves:
Gusts, to and fro.
The thick dark line, advancing
Like a wall, someone
Said–stampeding herd,
In the distance,
Rumbling in. The whole
Horizon rolled.

And now, with one accord,
They stood.
Trees fretted, swayed.
The sparrows flung themselves
Against the sky,
Scraping roofs and wires,
Scolding high-pitched, angrily
As crows, madly criss-crossed,
Squalling, driving southward.
Heading out.

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