REPORT YOUR UNUSUAL PHENOMENON
Seen it myself as a girl—flare the size of a jet plane.
And why should a mother, why should anyone
spattering brilliant streams, this yellow washtub
crashing into a barn, killing the horse inside?
riding the center lane, buzzing the Sunday ham,
carving trenches, bulldozing peat, busting down doors?
Sizzled and crackled like bacon frying,
Several physicists, a loud crash, my sanity,
of wacko President of Find the Children.
but it rotated on the sill like two fists, coiled tinsel,
Fizzed like one of those fizzer sticks. I knew
from a dryer, but they weren't chirping,
Just a blue mist, loose screw, ringing phone.
Just me and my dear daddy (daddy saw it too).
About a dozen years ago, my sister-in-law shared with me that she'd seen ball lightning as a child, but her parents didn't believe her. Had I ever heard of ball lightning? No, I hadn't, but I was curious. Ball lightning, according to Wikipedia, is an "unexplained atmospheric electrical phenomenon" involving "luminous spherical objects." Until the 1960s, most scientists did not believe in its existence; it was considered an urban myth. Scientific data remains scarce, but there is a growing body of evidence that ball lightning is real.
As she sometimes did during those early years of knowing her, my sister-in-law asked me if I'd write a poem about it. I said I'd try. My 'research' involved reading every online account of a ball lightning sighting I could find. These accounts were then collaged and massaged into a quasi single-voice narrative. I found myself delighted by the poetic 'feel' of these eyewitness accounts, along with the bizarrely disjointed 'story' born of meshing together several accounts into one semi-deranged voice. I relished both the poetry in the so-called everyday language of non-poets, and the non-poetic tendencies of the so-called poet/maker (me). There was just something so compelling about having those two opposing and contradictory forces playing off each other. Also, by the end of the poem the ambiguity of the title plays out: there are many things that cannot be explained, and sanity is fleeting.
I continued to revise this poem for years (and years). I'd put it away, not sure if it was finished or not, then return to it a few years later. Then I knew it was finished, but it kept getting rejected, so I'd put it away, then bring it out and tinker some more. The only sad thing is that my sister-in-law is out of the picture, so I can't tell her I finally finished her ball lightning poem.