Hatteras Calling

Irene prior to landfall. (NASA)

Hurricane Irene made landfall near Cape Hatteras, NC, on Saturday morning and then sluggishly churned its way up the Eastern Seaboard.

The cape is part of Hatteras Island, one of those barrier islands they call the Outer Banks. It has been hit by hurricanes 104 times in the last 140 years. It gets a direct hit about once every 4.34 years. Hurricanes affect Hatteras every 1.35 years on average. The last time was September 2010 when Hurricane Earl passed within 70 miles. In 2003, Isabel hit Hatteras hard, causing extensive damage to the entire Outer Banks

In August of 1889, William Aiken, a surgeon and his wife, Anna who was seven months pregnant, were on a short voyage along the coast. According to one account,

Their ship was caught in a hurricane, floundering against the rocky shore off Cape Hatteras, and William and Anna were handed to safety with the air of a human chain formed by the crew only a short time before a wave washed away the deckhouse where their cabin was located. But Anna suffered no ill effects, and she and her husband reached their new home . . . There on August 5, 1899, their first child was born . . .”

That child was Conrad Aiken, a poet I profiled a few weeks back. He wrote the following poem which is so terribly apropos for this weekend.

Hatteras Calling

Southeast, and storm, and every weather vane
shivers and moans upon its dripping pin,
ragged on chimneys the cloud whips, the rain
howls at the flues and windows to get in,

the golden rooster claps his golden wings
and from the Baptist Chapel shrieks no more,
the golden arrow in the southeast sings
and hears on the roof the Atlantic Ocean roar.

Waves among wires, sea scudding over poles,
down every alley the magnificence of rain,
dead gutters live once more, the deep manholes
hollow in triumph a passage to the main.

Umbrellas, and in the Gardens one old man
hurries away along a dancing path,
listens to music on a watering-can,
observes among the tulips the sudden wrath,

pale willows thrashing to the needled lake,
and dinghies filled with water; while the sky
smashes the lilacs, swoops to shake and break,
till shattered branches shriek and railings cry.

Speak, Hatteras, your language of the sea:
scour with kelp and spindrift the stale street:
that man in terror may learn once more to be
child of that hour when rock and ocean meet.

——————–

Hurricane info: hurricanecity.com
Aiken info: Edward Butscher, Poet of White Horse Vale (University of Georgia Press, 2010)

 

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