Tornado Alley by Philip Paradis

Tornado Alley
by Philip Paradis
Originally published by Ampersand Press
Copyright Philip Paradis
ISBN #0-9604740-9-9

For permission to reprint contact the author at
Other books by Philip Paradis
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following journals in which some of these poems have appeared: The American Scholar, Cafe Solo, Connecticut River Review, Mid-American Review, National Forum, Nimrod, Poetry Digest, and Tar River Poetry.
"Against the Drought" first appeared in the Cimarron Review and is reprinted here with the permission of the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University, holders of the copyright.
for Marj
ISBN 0-9604740-9-9
Copyright 1986 by Philip Paradis
Layout and design by Ampersand Press
Printed in U.S.A.
Published by Ampersand Press, Creative Writing Program, Roger Williams College, Bristol, Rhode Island 02809
1st Printing 1986
2nd Printing 1987
3rd Printing 1989
"Then the Lord answered Job
out of the whirlwind ...."
Job, 38:1
"for in the very torrent, tempest,
and . . . whirlwind of passion, you
must acquire and beget a temperance,
that may give it smoothness."
Hamlet, III, ii



Downwind from a shaggy headed bull

the air is alive

with a damp odor of hides.

Lightning and thunder

or prairie fire spirits him,

or a mild wind

like this over the rise,

with cows grazing

the valley below.

The bull on a bluff,

tail slapping flies

and nose to the wind,

I stalk him low

through the tall grass,

frame him on the horizon

with equal parts of earth and sky,

and focus on infinity --

his great horned head turns

the other way.


Our horizon closes

in. Against our wills

we are made

to taste the earth.


We learn our lesson

again: find shelter --

every breath brings us

back, further back, until at last

we retrace our steps                                                       

to the steps we sat on                                                      

in front of the Sunday school

where once we learned

our catechism: _sons of Adam_,

_we are clay_.


Nothing we drink

washes away the dust.

And how long we wonder

must we live with

this fine falling rain

dusting the half-buried faces

of our sleeping children?


Friend, to guard against

a blue day when no game fish

is willing to fall

for your hula popper,

take some local advice and

for insurance carry

a soup can you can fill

down the street with earth-

worms dug from Frank DeVivo's

compost. Forking over

coffee grounds, egg shells,

and melon rind, he'll dig

for you and give you

what you want, throwing in

any night crawlers he can

find just in case you

need the added premium.



Always the opportunist,

its buzz words insinuating

a way into your dreams,

double-jointed, with collapsible


wings and legs for water-skating,

the smart anesthetist

sticks you when you feel it

only too late.


And if you wake from sweet sleep

punishing the air with karate chops,

it only bobs and weaves on the breezes

of those close shaves, and hums


in your red face even as you curse.

Lighting your house up like a Christmas tree,

you swat at walls and grab wildly,

squeezing the air from your fist


to end its tiny life.

Relaxing your white knuckles,

you open your hand to find

a smudged hieroglyph and see


in the crevasses between fingers

it unfolding itself like some Houdini

brushing his clothes off, climbing into the air,

earning your grudging applause.



Like a salmon fighting falls,

once I shouldered wind,

wrapped in an overcoat

in my private war,

when a blackbird threw itself

up from dried grass, hit

the stiff head wind

and hung there, beating wings--

my spirit cheered.

After a long moment of fists

pounding a door, its spirit

buckled, and I thought all was lost--

but with set wings,

it sailed the wind away.


I wished to tell you once,

_Sleep now, hold this quiet_

_close to you. Sleep will_

_bring you closer to yourself_

_and teach you the possibilities_.


Tonight, alone, and childless

under this wide moon, I share

a father's concern. My thoughts

drift toward you now, as your

father's did then, on a night

when we talked and you

slept little between dreams,

his words straying from the paths

of conversation as your cries

reached him from a room teeming

with stuffed animals, all

called by their first names.


Tonight, walking an unlit

country road, I remembered you

when the night had grown too big

for you, or your bed too small.

Once again, the night has brought us

closer together. But tonight,

under this sky, I know that any man

can bless. So Elizabeth, whenever

you wake fearful, may you wake

to a voice close grained as oak,

strong enough to hold the darkness

at bay, strong enough to hold you.

And someday, may you remember

how, from lilac branches

outside your window, song sparrows

woke you to another life.


Farm boys lost to this world

immortalize themselves,

their dates, their broken

engagements. In finely tuned

machines, they try to make

the crooked ways straight

by speeding head-on

into lovers' headlights and out

of this life where cotton

withers on the branch

and no rain falls. A world

all wrong for them, they leave it

for a good girl or a dream

gone bad.

Cracks in the earth grow

wide enough for livestock

to fall into.

The nearest beer is miles

across the county line.

Across the way, some others,

tanked up and riding high,

talk loud, laugh. Shouts.

They have been to the other side

of the county line, their faces

dimly lit by flames.

A rough circle of torches

and men. In dirt at their feet,

an armadillo is trying

to crawl back

into its uncharted ramble,

its night-walking life

where moonstruck eyes can hide

from torchlight.

One of them has it by the tail.


He is one of us

who live and work under

a burning star,

crawling out of our everyday lives

to answer the unspoken summons

of the night and take this

beast of the dark, the shadow-ridden,

and coolest hours, for

its life is one of ease.


This is something he must do,

even if it does not bring rain,

even if the wild animal inside

does not die out.

The trapped beast, doused

with whiskey and gasoline, crawls

farther and farther

into itself, until

lit by a single matchstick,

the dying animal blossoms

into flames, lighting the darkness,

lighting our faces.


                In memoriam, James Wright

One of your books, now

out of print, I didn't buy.

I might have borrowed it

in good conscience, smuggled

it into Indian Summer light

and found some quiet place

beneath a sycamore, far from

the dust of book shelves.

But a friend told me, Here

take mine, copy it.

The proprietor told me he would not

break the law, but I could

and could use his machine,

saving 2 cents a page.

I didn't want to steal bread

from your widow's mouth,

but my friend lent me his copy--

your book handed from friend

to friend. You would have approved

if I read you right.

I had to give up my place

at the machine for another.

When she left, the machine fired

one, two, three, fourteen copies

of "October Ghosts" before anyone

reset the counter. For my copy

$1.61 plus tax. He didn't charge

for the thirteen.

And though I know this lament

will do you little good, I am ready

to pay and will be ready for the authorities

when they come to collect what I owe you

as they figure it. But the way I see it,

my friend and I, and the rest

of us-- all honest citizens--

owe you thanks for your plain talk

and your breaking into song

like a man in church, who is aware always

he is a man in church singing,

so he sings, sometimes a half-step behind,

sometimes a little too gravelly voiced,

yet he sings like the man he knows

himself to be. And though it may be vain

to hope even one copy falls

into the right hands, I know at least one

has when I return my friend's

book-- yours. Which belongs now

to those of us you've left behind.


Before the end of the world came

for him, Bo Sample dozed as he always did

every Sunday behind the wheel

of his oversized pickup outside

the Baptist church. Across the street

Jed Bowlin, with his jug, lay propped

against one of the brick walls

of the high school before wild trumpets

announcing destruction woke him

from his blurred dream.

Inside the church, no one was giggling

anymore at the Davis boys' coonhound

howling from their pickup in his cracked treble.

All singing stopped when a voice

like a runaway freight train's commanded

the walls to shake, shingles to fly off

and follow, and the church, too, to fall

to its knees. Then everyone knew

the dog was not joining in

with the singing congregation

but tuning to a note higher than G.

When the twister struck, what Jed Bowlin saw

sobered him: trees flying, the ball park's

chain-link fence uprooted like a weed,

crazy flocks of shingles, and one 

yellow dandelion at his feet.

Later, though all the lines were down, word

began to reach us, how some men had to pry

Bo's broken body from his mangled truck,

how Clara Hammond's newborn flew out of her arms

when the roof blew off, how she stared

into the screaming funnel, how she came to

when they found her baby, cooing and unharmed,

still blanket-wrapped in an uncut patch of timothy,

and how Jed Bowlin, who saw it all, threw 

down his bottle and was born again.


  Roosevelt Dime


Viens ici, boys, viens ici

Parlez vous Francais?

Oui, monsieur.

Comment ,ca va?

Tres bien, merci, mon oncle.

Pas mal, merci, mon oncle, et toi?

Tres bien.

Look what Uncle Lucien

has for you.

A dime! a shiny new dime!

and a nickel, too!

I knew it: E Pluribus Unum--

In God We Trust.

But this time he didn't ask.

A nickel and a dime,

for my brother

and for me: In Uncle Lucien

We Trust!

Here, boys,

which one you want? The big one

or the little one?

Uncle held out his hands.

Make cents, now,

it makes sense.

Who first?

Youngest first this time.


Little brother grabbed

for the greasy nickel

and held it tightly

in his fist.

Everyone laughed.

I got the dime

and the joke, too.
You make any cents? Uncle said.


I held up the dime.

Right, mon oncle, makes sense.


United States of America

E Pluribus Unum

In God We Trust.

One thin dime,

ten cents.


Gentlemen, first, let me reintroduce

Mr. Jim Beam. Now, after having chosen

a good vise, we must choose a hook

that will hold and lie like a wild-eyed

fisherman hanging on to your sleeve.

Let's make him a small fish lost in

big water. He'll be hurt, too, injured,

a sort of cripple. That always calls

the big Cutthroats out from under cutbanks

after more blood. Clip off the barb, too.

Be sports, give the poor suckers a chance

to throw our hook. They'll still have to

fight the current and our taut lines.

Let's have no flashy bird of paradise

or oriental fighting cock. Unassuming

North American bucktail will do for

our western, Missoula, big sky variant

of Mr. Red-Nosed Dace, a game and

gimpy little guy, nosing his way against

the current. White, grey, black, and

brown streamers will wave to Dolleys

from the riffles and boiling white water.

Wrap some tinsel clouded over like old

chrome, sunburnt and tarnished to flakes

on the bumper of a stalled Chevy weathering

bad skies from the side of the high road

from Philipsburg to Kicking Horse.

Where did Mr. Beam go? Somebody, please,

tell him attendance is mandatory. Now

wind those threads tight. We don't want

any threads of our fish stories unraveling.  


Back again, the chickadee

we noticed from our

frosted window's melted 

peephole, whose coming 

and going we watched for: the one

with the crippled leg.


His wings worked overtime

just to stay balanced

on his perch, still he

hung on, with his 

one good leg.                                                        				        one good leg.

When he reappears

again to visit our feeder,

alighting on a branch

of the rose of Sharon, 

it's as if he is telling us: Hang on 

a while longer, the winter is over;

let's pick the millet

from among the stones,

and see what can be done

with one good leg.

Philip Paradis has a BA in English from Central Connecticut
State University, an MA in English from the University of Utah,
and a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from Oklahoma State
University. His poetry and prose have appeared in numerous
magazines and journals. He taught for a number of years at Oklahoma
State University and presently teaches at Iowa State University and
is a contributing editor for Poet & Critic.
ISBN 0-9604740-9-9
Ampersand Press
Creative Writing Program
Roger Williams College
Bristol, Rl 02809

"I believe in Philip Paradis's poems because they avoid the pitfalls of contemporary rhetoric and 'art in the head,' because they have the land under them and can be verified in experience, and because, as the poet says himself, 'he sings like the man he knows himself to be.' This is an auspicious debut." -- Brendan Galvin

"Paradis's title, TORNADO ALLEY, is audacious. By giving Jarrell's famous metaphor of the poet as a man who spends his life standing in thunderstorms waiting to be hit by lightning a new twist, it requires that the poems which comprise that title live up to a most difficult claim. And they do: Paradis's art is patient enough and is so hard-won that, poem by poem, they do." -- Jonathan Holden

 _Tornado Alley_
Philip Paradis
Originally published by Ampersand Press, 1986
Copyright Philip Paradis
ISBN #0-9604740-9-9

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