The Night of the Big Wind in Ireland, 1839

by DANNYE ROMINE POWELL

All along Ireland’s western seaboard people made peace with their God, as I try to do now after my son calls again drunk, this time to say he’s taking off for the woods, that I should come gather whatever I want from his narrow loft with its wide bed and ragged rubber tree. I sit frozen in my chair and continue reading about Ireland’s Big Wind, when, on the evening of Saturday, January 5th, snow fell dense and heavy, and by morning, a sky loaded with motionless clouds. That afternoon, a stillness so profound they say voices floated between farmhouses more than a mile apart. I like to imagine my voice floating to my son when he wakes from this binge. Are you still alive? I whisper to air, and hear him reply: I can’t go on like this. Today’s the day I stop. But within hours, he’s drunk again and hope melts as fast as the snow on the 6th, when a band of warm air shoved the cold east, followed at dusk by wind, rains mixed with hail, more cold. Sometimes he’s wretched with regret, admits he’s made a mess of his life, though by now we’ve lost all trust, even when he’s sober— those short runs of fair weather, stars clicking into place. I rarely heed the warnings that he‘s at it again: edginess, that sketchy beard, a hoary film of worry that descends. Then the dreams—he’s fallen off a mountain or into a stream and lies broken somewhere under branches. By midnight of the 6th, the wind spun into gales and raged until dawn. Next morning, sun glazed a wasteland, orchard walls down, slate roofs picked clean, sea water streaming inland, flooding houses and shops, gardens and barns, the smell of salt insinuating itself for weeks. I know all about such smells, how they swim every tributary of your being and render you senseless. If my son won’t stop this time, if he takes to the woods, I’ll do as I always do—climb his stairs, bucket and brush in hand—and scrub as the Irish scrubbed, down on my knees.

DANNYE ROMINE POWELL is the author of three collections of poetry from the University of Arkansas Press, two of which have won the Brockman-Campbell Award for the best book of poems published by a North Carolinian in the previous year. She’s won fellowships from the NEA and the N.C. Arts Council, as well as a residency to Yaddo, where she was assigned Sylvia Plath’s old bedroom.