the tornado

language is bigger on the inside by Laura Kochman

[The track of the April 27, 2011 tornado through Tuscaloosa, AL / NASA.]

On Sunday, Entropy published my first creative nonfiction essay, and I suspect I haven't written about it here because it meant so much to me. This is definitely an essay about Doctor Who, but it is also definitely about reaching toward a void, returning to the missing, to the things you cannot and will not ever know. Like I said in this earlier post, I have been returning to this piece about returning since 2012. Talking about this yesterday, I explained that language, writing, the open field of abstracted thought—these are ways, for me, of reaching into that blank space. Literally: the blank page, but also the specter of what waits there. The nothingness of numbness. The silence between us. The space between the sections in this essay are just as interesting to me as the sections themselves. I leave it open-ended because if it was not open-ended, it would be a still and edible thing. You wouldn't have to reach for it.

a slowly turning circle / another / another by Laura Kochman

Fortune and her Wheel, Medieval illustration.


Today is the first occurrence of April 27 on a Wednesday since 2011, when sirens cut off my Wednesday afternoon poetry workshop and I ran to the library, where I huddled in the hallway while an EF4 tornado ground a diagonal wound into my town. It's a strange symmetry: five years, another Wednesday. Five is the kind of solid number you can depend on. I often count in fives. It's a way in which we can control time, by counting it.


The tornado changed a lot of things for a lot of people, and one of the things it changed for me was my sense of time. It made me realize that time is not so easily divisible (that nothing, actually, is so easily divisible). In a 2008 art history class on South American shamanic art, one of the cultures we studied had a calendar for which the repetition of the days was literal. Each Wednesday was the same Wednesday. Any meaning that was imbued on one Wednesday would be present the next Wednesday. Every week a slowly turning circle.


I started writing an essay about the tornado and repetition and Doctor Who in 2012, and I am still working on it. Still trying to figure out what I mean.


I have always thought of the calendar year as a circle, like a clock, with January 1 at the top, quadrants of the seasons. Each year kisses its own tail at the top. The academic calendar is the upper half of the circle, and in the academic calendar these months are their own kind of year. I know where the momentum will carry us, forward, swinging, but I don't live there anymore.


In the last months of 2010, I wrote a paper on The Consolation of Philosophy, on the way in which allegorical texts free us from linear time, on the recurrence of circles and circular movement, on the book itself as a circle, half in text and half beyond the boundaries of text. I didn't know that I was setting myself up. Half here and half there. Half beyond the storm and half huddled in the hallway. What would console me?


There's something comforting in the return, every year, of April 27. That we all remember together. That we create the safety that we did not have. That collective grief might swing us forward for another year, that a tornado is a turning circle, that I might be again in my old body, that the wound might be undone, that we might capture it more clearly.