In 2017, my island home Dominica, and other countries, were struck by devastating category five hurricane Maria. It was a traumatic time but there was love, caring and togetherness too. Writing poems like this one, In The Air, helped me work through the complex, conflicting, and confusing mix of emotions and thoughts. It turned out to be an empowering act, which gave me a lot of joy and release. Also, the transmutation of something aesthetically beautiful being created from the debris and devastation, was life-affirming; and to paraphrase Kamau Brathwaite, I, too, believe art can come out of catastrophe.

In The Air

After the hurricane,  

my grandmother,  

in her basement storeroom,  

hunkered down,  


her knees raw with prayer  

the whole long long lashing tail of night, then  

ascended slippery stairs  

hoping by holy intervention  

her home had been saved.  

She stared from room to room,  

swaying like a punched drunk spirit,  

mouth and eyes wide black holes of disbelief,  

words gone as wounds appeared.  

She walked on water,  

treading over eighty years of floating debris,  

then could do no more than silently thank  

her saviour over and over for sparing her life. 


After the hurricane,  

after Mass,  

tales of rampant looting  

circled among them like hungry dogs;  

after the turned-inside-out but still well  

clothed congregation, still  

silent, had shared signs of peace.  

No one appeared to conjure and divide  

loaves and fishes between some people;  

divided by good and bad luck or circumstance;  

divided by ability or will to pad and prepare, 

concrete seal, pantry stock, insure against calamity.  

But having enough or not enough saved,  

surely meant little then,  

after all none were saved  

from that almighty  

hurricane that reined in our poor  

island and had everyone drowning.  


After the hurricane,  

came the crazed lines for food…  

for any kind of fuel;  

came the tell-tail spoors  

of rats and roaches tracking rubbish;  

dank despair  

threading desperation through the dark.  

At night my grandmother floated  

in and out of light, nightmare-laden, sleep,  

waiting for the chain rattle  

of locked door;  

for the bark signalling predators  

had come for what little she had left.  

She prayed for enough strength and grace  

to give the strangers what they came to take.  


After the hurricane,  

she said sometimes it felt  

like man eat man survival,  

every woman for herself.  

Who had time, air, breath, breadth enough,  

to free dive deep and long enough,  

to understand  

then these heads heaped,  

backs breaking,  

carrying stolen mud-crusted sofas, sinks,  


through debris to homes  

miraculously still standing?  

To understand then the tragic  

improvised or organised  

bacchanal trashing of schools and stores?  

Who could explain anything then?  

Understand or explain anything now! 


When she was able,  

my grandmother told me  

about after the hurricane.  

Months later I flew home  

and stood stone still  

in the ruin of her home,  


I thought  



had been uncovered,  

illuminated, as I watched  

a mass of untethered particles  

air-floating in the beam of  

my head  

lamp, from floor all the way above  

my head  

to the star spored heavens. 

from Guabancex (Papillote Press, 2020) and collected in Radical Normalisation (forthcoming Carcanet, 2022), © Celia Sorhaindo 2020, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Celia A Sorhaindo is a poet from the Caribbean island of Dominica, where she now resides after living many years in the UK. Her poetry ...

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