The Great Flood

Hazard, Kentucky is no different
than a hundred rural towns
started as a trading post,
funded by coal that turned lungs

and hands dark at the start
of the twentieth century.
And while I love the story
of Hazard folk making

the Stone Gap journey,
having to go over
Big Black Mountain, it isn’t
the shantytowns left behind

when businesses went bust,
or the lung cancer cases,
either, that draw me.
It’s the dust and the mud

I come to see. The same
dust and mud that always
claim this town, where history
is marked by the water

that’s made Hazard its own—
the Great Flood of ’27,
the Great Flood of ’37,
and the black magic sevens go on

into the Great Flood of ’57
and…where before meteorologists,
people could predict
the size of the maelstrom coming

by watching the dust swirl
in the middle of the streets,
a dirty gypsy-like
fortune-telling dance,

with small bits of gravel
and earth twisting around
before, overhead, the clouds’
bulk fell in grey blocks

to the ground until the nearby
Kentucky River bred
and claimed a new space,
making a Venetian world

where no public roads survived,
just miles and miles of mud. Archived
photographs have captured this
murky, wet distress: “Note the automobile

barely visible under the flood waters,”
says the back of one. “Looking across
the river from town, see the iron bridge,”
says another, “to the train depot that lays destroyed,”

and my personal favorite, “A view up Main Street
where Rita’s and Jonnie’s Diner is destroyed”
written on the last. I don’t know why I like it
so much, except that I can imagine

Rita and Jonnie, not unlike my own family
from these Eastern Kentucky parts, their determined
pupils paying homage when dilated
to round pieces of coal.

I see them methodically boarding up
their restaurant, still holding
sand bags in their hands as the water
starts to ooze through the door.

A finalist for the 2015 James Wright Poetry Award, Lana Austin’s work has appeared in Mid-American Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Southern Women’s Review, and Zone 3. Her first chapbook, In Search of the Wild Dulcimer, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Austin has an MFA from George Mason University. Born and raised in Kentucky, she has lived in England and Italy but currently resides in Alabama with her husband and three children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *