Storm devastation in the South

Devastation of April Tornadoes in Alabama

Forgive me if I seem stuck.  I am.  Each day brings more news of the misery of these horrifically violent tornadoes.  I don’t remember the most recent count, but there were around 200 tornadoes that swept across 8 southern states.  Many now have been designated as F4s and F5s.  This is remarkable and unusual to happen in a season, much less in a 24 hour period.

We learn that F4’s leave nothing but foundations and rubble.  F5’s apparently take the rubble with them, and leave a something that looks like scorched earth.  F5’s apparently have 220mph winds.  Nothing can survive that amount of power.

Alabama suffered the worse of it apparently, with whole towns gone.  The death toll, which will rise as people who were seriously injured die, hit 350, and I hear this morning the missing are also at that number.

Atlanta was spared this fate, and only power in some places, trees and tree limbs fell.  Of course the violent rains did damage, but that is recoverable.  What people in Alabama and parts of Georgia suffered is life changing.

Many of the towns that were destroyed were also in farming communities.   ( Tuscaloosa was a college town.) The livestock are dead, the barns are gone and so is a generational livelihood. 

After 40 years in the south, I have learned  these country people are tough, compassionate and hardworking.  They live by the strength of their backs, their hands and their invention.  City folk wouldn’t last a week at this farm labor.  Years ago I watched a gentleman repair a tractor, with few tools and what he called ‘make-do’.  There was no running to Auto Zone or a farm supply because there weren’t any near enough and he, and others, had learned from past generations to …..make-do. 

I also remember an old woman living in the mountains of North Carolina who met us as we came towards her house with a shotgun.  Once she recognized us, she put that gun down and invited us in.  Her house was a three room cabin, no electricity, no running water but she had the most marvelous quilts hanging on most of the walls.  Her water came from a rain barrel and it was sweet and clear. Her bathroom was a corner of a stall and she was very embarrassed about that.  Years ago her husband had died in the middle of winter, and she, alone, rolled him out into the deep snow and covered him until she could make the arduous trip down the mountain to alert the authorities.

The people who were hurt by these storms were average folk.  They suffered terrible  losses and those who have been reading the papers or listening to TV know themselves the devastation.  If they had insurance, good, but many didn’t.

It is hard to decide what a person can do, because the need is so enormous.  I am an outsider, looking in, I haven’t had my life ripped up in such ways, loved ones killed.  In so many cases, there isn’t a ‘rebuild’.  There isn’t anything to rebuild.  That was the power of these tornadoes.

Right now I have to put some of my life on hold:  I don’t know what to do, but I know that money is only a fast and easy solution.  In 1998 there was a F5 tornado in Hall County in Georgia.  I remember my 10 year old son and I felt so compelled to do something we loaded up my husband’s new truck and delivered supplies.  It was like a barren moon landscape as we drove through, looking for people to give what we had.  Devastation to the right and left, and then, a cow in a pasture, calming chewing her cud. Surreal.

I’m older now, and my son is in the Navy on a destroyer.  I will have to find people who are already doing something.  I just know, again, I can’t sit on my hands and enjoy the spring. 

 I am re-posting the poems of late last week because they still apply, maybe even more now, but I also know that I don’t have the energy for more poetry.  What I have needs to go to something more…tangible.

Lady Nyo

With my begging bowl

I will go out in the world

to seek answers, not alms

why death and life

is so random,

why some are spared

and others not,

no mind to the age, condition, status,

all random, random.

And why tender Spring so violent

and why we hug the space

between joy and sorrow.

“Spring Storm”, written the night before the tornadoes, when I couldn’t sleep, afraid of what was predicted.

The winds  howl tonight

Race round eaves,

Disturb  the haunts in the attic,

Force wind chimes

Into a metal hambone frenzy,

The clash of harmony grates

On  ears, on nerves

no sleep for this night.

There is death to the west

Fear in the vanguard.

It is springtime,

No gentle embrace now

Just a blaze of destruction , despair.


Is far down on the ground,

Deep as a cellar

Deep as the grave.

Above the moon,

A sickly green sphere

Is in on the game,

Winks through the clouds

Casts a miser’s gleam below.

Throughout the night

Dogs howl,

A Greek chorus

Scattering primal fear

Over the land.

Each moan of wind

Heralds the apocalypse,

My eyes squeeze shut

Against grating of branches,

The rattle of panes

As I grasp for sanity

In an insane night.

I ride out the storm,

Dawn breaks,

The silence complete,

The earth placid, serene

As if the night before

Only a nightmare-

And I ridden from sleep

To the usual ground.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011

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28 Responses to “Storm devastation in the South”

  1. Mama Zen Says:

    Absolutely gorgeous writing.

    I have lived in Oklahoma all of my life, and I know the kind of devastation these storms can wreak.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Mama Zen: then you profoundly understand the situation here, much better than I do.

    I have seen the aftereffects of two tornadoes in my lifetime, but nothing like this, and I wasn’t that close to the action. The first one came through north Atlanta, and there was one three years ago that went right through downtown Atlanta, about three miles from here, but it was mostly blown- out windows and some structural damage. No life lost, as I remember.

    The one in Hall County, Georgia in 1998 was a monster, and 12 people died. That was horrible but nothing like these of last week.

    Perhaps people who live in tornado areas develop an appreciation for life like people who live with earthquakes? I have seen photos of the horrendous tornadoes in the Mid west, and they are truly monsters of nature.

    Thank you for reading, and your comment. It’s good to know that others are thinking about these people in the South.


    Lady Nyo


  3. Margie Says:

    There are many people thinking about, and helping, those that have been devastated by the storms – and I thank God for them and all that they do. But, boy, when I look at the pictures from Alabama, and Georgia, and Tennessee, I can’t imagine where one would start. The needs are so total and complete, I guess whatever assistance comes their way is appreciated. Whenever I start to think that we live in a cynical, all about me world – I read beautifully composed essays such as yours and I am reminded that people are mostly good, and are happy to help if they only know what is needed. I can tell that this event has touched you deeply, Jane. Thank God for that. I would hate to live in a world where others didn’t matter.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Margie!
    Yes, it has touched me deeply, but I am just a drop in the ocean. I too, look at the pictures coming out of these states, and I just don’t know where to begin, either. It would take an army (and there is one….the reserves I understand have been called in for help and protection….looters unfortunately) to even begin to make a dent here.

    This morning I was reading an interesting article about the difference between Japan and the US in these crisis issues. It was sent to me by an ‘anti-sociopath’ group, that is concerned about women and their experience with con men and psychopaths. Since I had some experience with one of these fellows a few years ago, I do on occasion read these articles. It was especially timely considering the tornadoes, and the fact that people are having to defend their destroyed possessions from looters in Alabama and here in Spaulding County. How horrible that this behavior exists in the midst of such overwhelming tragedy.

    People are generally good: that has been my experience. Even some religions, those that don’t sit and twittle their thumbs as they consider ‘what’ and ‘whether’ to respond…and most, thankfully, don’t.

    But beyond this issue of organizations, I know that many of us are moved to do ‘something’. I have asked the local Mennonites what they are doing, but unfortunately they are very involved in their new urban farm and don’t have the time to break away, or so the pastor told me this morning. But the Mennonites generally are first on the scene in these issues. Bless them. (The Atlanta congregation is also very small) (I will send you an interesting comment I received this morning from a Quaker, whether local or not, I don’t know, objecting to a poem I wrote about the Quaker Meeting, because it had the term ‘stony hearts, as hard as the wooden benches’. Just my experience with organized religion….)

    But! I am thinking that there are ways to donate help, or contribute help in the form of money and not necessarily to the Red Cross. There are little churches that have been razed, that were centers of community in these small, rural towns, and they are immediately attending to the survivors, members or not.

    I am driven by something that happened in 1998 during the Hall County tornado. “Help Can’t Wait”.

    Thankfully that is the general opinion of most people.




  5. brian Says:

    very apropo in light of the devastation…nothing is random…not to say it is deserved…i feel for those affected…we had several hit an hour away and destroy and kill…stirring words lady nyo


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Brian,

    My condolences to anyone caught in this terrible disaster. It looks like a giant blender set on high went on and on for hundreds of miles…and over 200 tornadoes I heard as the latest. April is not supposed to be the worse for tornadoes,….May is…but this year certainly got a jump on it all.

    “Nothing is random”…I can’t even get my head around that concept, Brian…maybe it’s intellectual exhaustion or something else….

    Funny, just a month before we were holding our breath with the tragedy in Japan, to have so much to appear on our collective doorsteps now.

    Thank you, Brian for reading and your sensitive comment. And glad you and yours were spared….as were we.

    Lady Nyo


  7. claudia Says:

    your poem “spring storm” made me shiver…i was shocked as well…by the earthquakes in japan and then the tornadoes over in the US…nothing is random…yes..i agree…


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Claudia…

    that poem gave me fits…I wrote it at 3am when I was so afraid, exhausted with preparations that thankfully, this time…weren’t needed…

    (Cleaning out a basement of a pat rat husband who shoves things down there so I can’t complain of it on the upper floors….lol! It was 15 contractor bags of stuff I just shoved in a dumpster…and god only knows what I threw out….at that point, I didn’t care, and he probably won’t know anyway….)

    There is something to say for writing poetry when you are flat out done in….lol! You probably are open to things, your guard let down…where in the normal, waking hours….well, you know where this is going.

    Thank you, Claudia….life just can’t go back on tract right now. Too many people have been disrupted in the worse ways…

    Lady Nyo


  9. dustus Says:

    Your poems are emotionally sensitive and a reminder of how life can end any moment. Beautiful work. My heart goes out to all those suffering losses from the devastation.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Adam….life is precious, and it can end, as we have seen up close this past week, so fast.

    Poets have…all of us, a very special place in society…we are the chroniclers of happenings, in the most concrete and abstract and pointed ways…that is the scope of our poetry. In a few words, we should connect images with emotions and this is what is ….sometimes….transcendent.

    When we are striking all cylinders, this is what is remembered by our readers. It is rare for me, but then I have been a poet only a few years. I think it takes time, and a personal refining fire, to do this.

    I have been having a discussion with a few other poets, a few here on Oneshot , and others who aren’t, about the methods and focus/projection of our poetry. Why we write, and what it means for us, but more importantly, what it can mean for others. It always amazes me what readers come up with in poetry. That is the excitement and perhaps the true extension of our work.

    I hope to extend these conversations soon on my blog.

    Thank you, Adam, for reading and your kind comment.

    Lady Nyo


  11. moondustwriter Says:

    I am with you Jane I cannot look away as people who have less than I ( even tho we are on bare bones.) This is when the mettle of the heart shines forth

    keep strong my friend for others need that which you can offer – your hand and your heart

    Love and hugs


  12. ayala Says:

    Life is so fragile…beautifully done!


  13. Elizabeth Young Says:

    Beautiful poems Jane, sorry they were born of such personal cost to you and thousands of others. My son lives in Franklin (we are Canadian), and when I last called him and asked how he was he answered: ‘ALIVE.’ This brought home to me the depth of devastation that had occurred. Thank you for sharing your poems at this difficult time, Elizabeth.


  14. ladynyo Says:

    Dear Elizabeth!
    Welcome! We were spared the wrath of all of this, but the lessons are heavy. The south has been stricken with a horrible hand and there is so much to be done to elevate the suffering and destruction. The issue, looking at the pictures is this: where do you begin?

    I am so glad your son survived in Franklin (Georgia?). To be ALIVE sometimes is the only answer to something..perhaps it is THE only answer that has value, worth.

    I read some of your blog, left a comment on your ‘mute man’ essay. Powerful stuff, Elizabeth. I will be back.

    Thank you so much for reading and leaving this comment.

    You are a kindred spirit.



  15. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Ayala!

    Life is indeed fragile…all life. Perhaps the longer we live, the more we understand this.

    Thank you, Ayala, for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  16. Laura Hegfield Says:

    beautiful, mournful, loving and compassionate writing Jane…the first poem wrapped around my heart immediately. thank you for expressing what many of us are feeling for those who are suffering.


  17. ladynyo Says:


    Your encouraging comment came at the perfect time! I was feeling so overwhelmed, because I didn’t know where to start….we can apply ourselves only when we know how…and I was overwhelmed…but you know, don’t you….these things are inescapable…and they pit the heart and change you forever if you just let them.

    There are cautions, though, Moonie, as you know. There is corruption and opportunism in all of these things, and the issue is to step carefully around them. I will write something on the blog about this, because there are people waiting to take advantage of those who are open hearted. This, the compassionate nature, is the majority of people. The ones who are opportunists are there, also.

    Thank you, Moonie….

    Love and hugs, back




  18. ladynyo Says:

    Hiya Laura!

    That is what happens when you write something at 3am….LOL!…your ‘defenses’ are down….

    I struggled with the second poem, and it will go through revision, as it should. I find that when I am too wordy, I lose power in poetry. and don’t we all.

    Thank you, Laura….for reading, your comment, and your own compassionate nature. You are a blessing.



  19. Steve Isaak Says:

    I loved the poems – no extraneous lines, wish I’d written them. Barebones as one can get, given your writing structure and full expression.

    Quick typo/nits –
    As if the night before

    [Were] only a nightmare-

    Excellent. I’m sure other writers have more succinct, barebones styles – but that’s others’ writing, not yours. These same writers also would have personal-to-them, (probably) wildly different elements to their work.


  20. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Steve!!

    Well, I plead writing-poetry-at-3am-dementia. LOL! Bare bones because of a couple of things….fear is one thing that shortens my tongue….and the Japanese influence of mostly tanka.

    I am not happy with the second poem, but expect revisions to come…and come. This one disturbs me.

    The first? Well, it was a spontaneous poem admitting my despair and confusion. sometimes the dark makes us …honest.

    Thank you, dear friend, for reading and leaving this comment. and the nits correction.



  21. hedgewitch Says:

    Very expressive and totally involving poems, that carry anxiety, powerlessness and fear, but also the knowledge of our unbreakable ties to each other, and even to a Nature that is random and destructive as well as giving. Beautiful and terrible is the face of that power.


  22. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Hedgewitch.

    Beautiful and terrible is this face of Nature….I couldn’t have said it better myself. We are truly powerless before the power of these storms….our survival is also random….and this is heartbreaking.

    I have to believe that Nature is random in destruction. There isn’t a ‘plan’ as to the determination of these things…If there were, how could we support it? I couldn’t. Perhaps that is the crux of my spiritual beliefs..such as they are.

    Thank you, Joy, for reading and your very insightful comment. You shed clarity in a very muddy issue.



  23. Matt Coughlan Says:

    The opening image of the beggar seeking answers drew me in and gripped me through the entire piece. Thank you for sharing. 😀


  24. ladynyo Says:

    Oh, you are welcome, Matt.

    Sometimes the simplest of word cobbling is the most satisfying.

    Thank you for reading and your very kind comment.

    Lady Nyo


  25. bluebee Says:

    Yes, so random, and devastating for these people, Lady Nyo – lives lost in an instant and the familiar completely stripped away. And so bizarre that we are not wired to accept randomness – always searching for meaning and patterns. Your account of that old woman living in the mountains of North Carolina was fascinating – almost total mistrust of others – all her meaning and soul in her self-sufficiency and those quilts.


  26. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Bluebee,

    You are so right: we are not wired to accept randomness…I had not thought enough about it, but I think you are exactly right. Randomness is unknowable.. and isn’t tied to a spiritual concept, which I would call searching for meaning….nor has it patterns.

    I didn’t write enough about this fascinating mountain woman. She wasn’t in a mountain hamlet, there weren’t trees around her. She was in a cabin in the middle of pastures…with hardly a road cutting through these pastures. It didn’t look like many went down that road. But this being mountains, there were trees surrounding her on all sides, as I remember.

    Her cabin consisted of a kitchen, bedroom and parlour. The kitchen had an old cook stove on one wall. What fascinated me was the structure of the inside walls. They were grooved boards, no paint to be seen, and the bedstead was an iron double bed. Very old. The quilts were patchwork, but of very small pieces….real works of art, though she wouldn’t have called them anything so ‘pretentious’. There was nothing in the bedroom except a bed. There were hooks or nails on the back of doors, but no chests or bureaus.

    But she was so lovely….once she put the loaded shotgun down. We were invited in, and my friend knew her from previous visits. She was an anthropology student and was making a study of mountain people. She herself had grown up in the mountains of NC and also her mother maintained a house…without running water nor electricity. We spent a few very long weekends there, and there was nothing to do but talk and read as long as there was light. My first experience with a chamberpot, too.

    This mountain woman was as hospitable as many people are in isolated places. Once they get over the suspicion of who is coming down their road, they couldn’t be kinder. She insisted on feeding us, though it was around 4 in the afternoon. She opened cans of peaches, had biscuits and we drank that rain barrel water.

    She was self-sufficient because she had no one else. No children, and a widow. It was hard to leave her, because she was so happy to have visitors and she wanted to hear about our lives, but we wanted to hear about hers. She had hens and a goat I believe, and she milked the goat for milk and someone made cheese out of the milk. Otherwise, her milk was canned.

    What I hadn’t mentioned was this: there were city women, collectors, antique people, etc…who came and bought her quilts for maybe $25-$50.00….and they resold them in Atlanta and Raleigh, the bigger cities for thousands of dollars. We didn’t tell her, and I had only found this out from my friend. It was such an abuse of this isolated woman.

    My friend had gathered a few wildflowers as we parked and walked towards her house, and she was so sweet and almost speechless when she was given the bouquet. When we left, she insisted we take a tin of her biscuits with us.

    These people may have no education and are ignorant of the ways of the world….but they exhibit some of the best of human qualities.

    I have never forgotten her. I’m sure she has died, but she was quiet fortitude and strength. Fine examples for two younger women.

    Lady Nyo


  27. bluebee Says:

    Thank you, Lady Nyo, for this fascinating peek into a very interesting experience and a life chosen quite different from our own – Did she allow your friend to take her photo? I wonder if she could and did read or if she filled her days solely by working on her property and quilting. Sadly, the abuse of someone’s talent, as you have described, is all too common.


  28. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Bluebee,

    This had to be at least 20 years ago, and I don’t remember my friend bringing a camera. I think it would have had to be something rare, for her to take a photo of her friend. People are suspicious of cameras, or were back then.

    I would suppose she could read, somewhat, and usually there is a church near enough perhaps to walk to, so perhaps the Bible was her only reading…I didn’t notice books or book shelves around. She did can, and had put up some produce. I would imagine that her canning probably was “kettle” canning, which is fine for jams and jellies , but not for meat, etc. A pressure cooker is pretty expensive, even back then.

    Quilting is pretty constant work….and intensive. All those stitches. I have made quilts by hand, mostly I sew by hand, and I have two machines which I don’t use, because I don’t like the bobbins….given to me by my husband’s dead grandmothers. They are old and heavy things, and are probably simple to use, but there are some suspicious copper wires sticking out one one and the other more complex than I am used to….LOL! She didn’t have a machine, she didn’t have electricity as I remember….but she did have lanterns on the kitchen table…which is probably where she sewed. I do remember a quilt behind her iron bed: I don’t think that any piece of cloth was more than an inch square…and the quilt was a full bed quilt. That takes a LOT of sewing, a lot of stitches. The batting would have been raw cotton balls from some field. I only know it was cotton because she told us this.

    When you are alone, there is a lot to do during the day, and of course she would have gone to bed early, with the chickens as they say. Having chickens, I see how early they do go to bed…my 10 hens retire to their henhouse when it is almost dark. It’s like they wear tiny timex on their ankles…

    Come to think of it, her only heat would have been the cookstove in the kitchen. She would have had to chop and split wood, but considering her age, I would imagine that the men folk around there would have brought her wood for the cold weather. At least I hope so. There were other families up there, through those pastures.

    I do remember her embarrassment when we needed to pee…and she said that she didn’t have a proper outhouse, and she went in the corner stall of a very rickety small barn. I remember the ‘shame’ on her face: people are sensitive to their poverty with outsiders….but it would have been not an issue to her.

    I remember under the cabin, house…it was up on rocks, piled atop each other….with beams running across the bottom of the cabin. You could have crawled under the back of the house very easily, and I bet ‘critters’ slept there for shelter.

    You know, Bluebee, this scene, the way she lived, isn’t that far from people raised in the country a few generations ago. I think electricity was pretty common by the 70’s up in the mountains, but then of course you had to run lines and pay for the juice. I think when you diverse yourself of television, radio, fridge ( a cold stream works for this) you really don’t need this…and of course this was all before the blessed internet.

    You are right: sadly the abuse of talent is all too common. Even if we think in our own lives, this can be true. I think she stood as a reminder as to how much we have, and how much we can get along fine without. Hard life, but a peaceful one in some very important ways.


    Lady Nyo


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