“Living Below Sea Level” by Amy Lerman

Amy Lerman


You could always tell the change of season
by the Publix bag reminders to stock up
on batteries, canned foods, and candles,
plus, in Hurricane Season tradition, my parents
would retell stories of life before me, my sister,
their apartment windows the only not to blow,
their living room a refuge for neighbors. Every
year, I’d wait for a hurricane, that chance
to masking tape our windows in “Xs” under
Dad’s supervision, so, as he would explain,
glass would chunk rather than shatter. I can’t
recall how many times we would prepare
overnight bags, some cat toys, our four-inch,
portable television, and head north, inland,
at four stories high, my grandmother’s condo
a much safer location. My sister and I would let
the cat wander her new environs, spread sleeping
bags in the dining room, then run to bedroom
windows framing nothing more than threaded
rain and slated skies, while the adults poured
Chianti and watched local updates. After hours,
we would all semi-sleep until the 5:00 AM
alarm—the one my sister and I set—would lever
us upright for the moments, according to forecasters,
of greatest impact. So often, though, no winds
ruptured palm fronds, no storm eye quieted, no school
got cancelled, in spite of our loyalty, our sacrifice,
our willingness to monitor, that taping and alarm naught,
our only celebration some early morning chocolate milk
and extra bowls of Alpha Bits.

from Poets Respond
September 1, 2019


Amy Lerman: “This poem is a response to Hurricane Dorian’s possible trajectory towards Miami. I was born and raised on Miami Beach, so I grew up hearing about hurricanes past and preparing for hurricanes present. With the severity of this season’s approaching storm, I was reminded of my childhood perspective towards hurricanes—the excitement of evacuating to higher land (my grandmother’s North Miami apartment), my whole family (including our cat) camping out in the same room, and best of all, a day off from school, since the storms often approached over Labor Day weekend. As I communicate with my friends and family still in that area, I’m reminded of the carefree thoughts of youth versus the anxiety of adulthood.”

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