Two Poems After Irene by Mary Ruefle
2021 is the tenth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, the storm that tore through Vermont in late August 2011 and devastated communities across the state. This summer, Vermonters have remembered the destruction and loss of that event—and the strength with which we recovered—by sharing stories, photos, and videos from the storm. Vermont Poet Laureate Mary Ruefle shared with us two pieces written in response to Irene, a short prose piece, “Flood Lessons,” and a poem, “Suddenly,” which we are honored to publish here.
The greatest lesson I learned from the flood was that rivers have a psychology– they get angry, and when they are angry they overflow their banks and surge forward, taking with them everything in their path. Nothing is spared, they uproot gigantic trees and snap bridges and lift houses off their foundations. They wash people away and leave their bodies behind when they are done with that. Rivers are no different, I realized, than an angry person– when a person is angry, really really angry, they don’t just punch a hole in the wall, they punch a hole in the people around them, those they love as well as total strangers. Rising anger is a dangerous thing. We may not be able to control the anger of our rivers, but we must absolutely try to control our own. This is what the psychology of a flood taught me as I walked out the morning after the flood and saw what the river had done.
to the memory of Ivana Taseva
I see her eyes wet with life,
the girl on the poster, fifteen
maybe seventeen, missing since
August 28th, last seen standing
on the banks of the river as the
water rose, her teenage curiosity
at its height– how fast the water
rises, how beautiful its swirl,
this thing outside of herself
she was suddenly interested in.
When does awe turn to fear?
Throw panic between them.
And then she was just a body
caught in a soccer net on the
grounds of a school, thrown
there, tossed like a ball by
the water. No longer missing
but missed. I didn’t catch her
name. We all have one. A life,
a death. Has anyone seen the
Mary Ruefle has published over a dozen books of poetry, including Dunce (2019), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, My Private Property (2016), Indeed I Was Pleased with the World (2007), and The Adamant (1989), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. She is also the author of the essay collection Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012) and the work of fiction The Most of It (2008). She is the author of a number of erasure books, which can be viewed on her website. Ruefle earned a BA from Bennington College. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as a Whiting Writers’ Award, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Ruefle has taught at Vermont College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 2019 she was named Vermont Poet Laureate, and in 2020 she was named a poet laureate fellow of the American Academy of Poets.