Before You Told Me
When I was a child in Ohio, surrounded by corn and soybean fields,
we used to run tornado drills in school. We hustled into hallways,
knelt down against walls. We covered our heads
with our innocent hands.
At a young age, I understood what to do: avoid windows,
find a place in the house, if no cellar or basement,
then at least the lowest floor, a bathroom with a tub,
a musty closet, a space below the stairs. I learned early on, too,
what to notice, how to predict: the sky a greenish tint,
the air swallowed into stillness.
I was just a little kid when a twister tore through the heart
of Xenia, eight miles away, ravishing homes
and lives in a path half a mile wide, the rubble reminding us
no one is safe, I could be next. Years later
I left Ohio to follow you to a state crowded with mountains
and an edge confronted by coast. I forgot about drills
I had grown up counting on. I forgot that
green might marinate the sky.
I forgot about silence:
its omens, its misfortunes.
“Before You Told Me,” excerpted from Trouble Can Be So Beautiful at the Beginning, Mercer University Press, © 2021. Used with permission. Shuly Xóchitl Cawood’s Trouble Can Be So Beautiful at the Beginning won the 2019 Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry. Cawood is the author of the memoir The Going and Goodbye, the inspirational little book 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17, and the short story collection A Small Thing to Want. She lives in Johnson City.