060.6: The Tuscaloosa Issue:: Hollars & Wennermark & Mink & Shinkle & Chappell 060

The Tuscaloosa Issue:: Friday: We feature writing by B.J. Hollars, Erik Wennermark, Chris Mink, Katie Jean Shinkle, and Carrie Chappell

This week, The Offending Adam pauses our usual publication schedule for a specific and important purpose: focusing our attention on the tragedy that just befell the American South, and in particular the state of Alabama. Each day this week, we will present writers who have a connection with Alabama writing on Alabama. Those of us at TOA and the writers participating in this week's issue encourage you to help and support the victims of the tornado by donating to the American Red Cross and to other aid organizations. Tuscaloosa may be broken and Tuscaloosa may be bruised, but Tuscaloosa will recover. And it will recover with our help. The Offending Adam

This Is A Test of the Emergency Alert System

by B.J. Hollars

To the best of your ability, please answer the following questions:

1.) How many times can you say “devastation?”

2.) Please use the following in a sentence: “strewn”, “flipped”, “sifting”, “sobbing”, “spinning.”

3.) Define: Death Toll (Hint: This is NOT the toll one pays for death.)

4.) True or False: You were just a little scared.

5.) These are the dimensions of my bathtub: 58″ x 30″ by 16″. If my wife, dog and I tuck ourselves inside, will we be a perfect fit?

6.) Which of the following is not currently found in my bathtub?

a.) My wife
b.) My dog
c.) Me
d.) Tornado

7.) Which of the following activities are best performed while riding out a tornado in your bathtub?

a.) Secret sharing
b.) Storytelling
c.) Dog petting
d.) Scrubbing out your tub.

8.) Which of the following is the proper response after surviving a tornado in your bath tub?

a.) Calling family
b.) Calling friends
c.) Waiting for a cell phone signal
d.) Continuing to wait for a cell phone signal
e.) Leashing your dog
f.) Thanking God
g.) Introducing yourself to God
h.) Introducing God to your wife and dog
i.) Living up to your part of the bargain
j.) Exiting your house
k.) Wondering why all of your plants are still upright
l.) Drinking a beer
m.) Drinking two beers
n.) Drinking zero beers and remembering your part of the bargain.
o.) Making a joke to lighten the mood
p.) Impersonating the Cowardly Lion: “It’s a twista! It’s a twista!”
q.) Understanding that the tornado did not miss everyone, just us
r.) Knocking it off with the impressions
s.) Pouring out the beer
t.) Going for food
u.) Going home
v.) Lighting candles
w.) Telling your wife what you meant to tell her in the bathtub
x.) Remembering your part of the bargain
y.) All of the above
z.) Some of the above

9.) Which of the following quotations has been fabricated?

a.) “People laid blankets over the bodies of neighbors…”
b.) “First responders didn’t attend to the dead.”
c.) “The earth went to moving.”
d.) None of the above.

10.) Where is the silver lining?

11.) And what do you mean when you say “gone?”

12.) In the space below, please draw a picture of anything but this.

13.) Which of the following tools most efficiently removes fallen trees?

a.) Chainsaw
b.) Axe
c.) Bow saw
d.) Poem

14.) How did your students respond to your attempts to contact them?

a.) With kind assurances of their safety
b.) With concern for your safety
c.) By writing you a poem
d.) By writing you an email
e.) By asking you for her final grade
f.) By thanking you for an “awesome” semester
g.) By wishing you the best of luck
h.) By wishing you no ill will (despite the B-)
i.) By informing you that his car was found two miles from where he’d parked it.
j.) By apologizing for the late paper—”The tornado ate it.”
k.) By asking for extra credit
l.) By asking “pretty please” for extra credit
m.) By asking you for your story
n.) By asking you what she’s supposed to do now
o.) By asking you the definition of death toll
p.) By asking you if he’ll seriously never see you again
q.) By telling you she’ll facebook you someday
r.) By telling you he slept through it
s.) By telling you that composition class taught him little of survival
t.) By telling you that African-American lit class taught him little of survival
u.) By asking, “What is the use of tornadoes?”
v.) By writing, “The nightmares won’t quit coming, will they?”
w.) By writing, “TTYL”
x.) With silence
y.) None of the above
z.) Some of the above

15.) Where does it hurt the most and why?

In the space provided below, please allow me with the opportunity to talk for awhile. You can understand, I’m sure, the necessity of talking, or of writing, or of overexposing an issue like a dark room left to light. In this essay, please attempt to imagine my great relief in waking up the morning after. Consider my minor inconvenience in having to sleep in the sweat-soaked sheets. Do you believe the world is quieter when there are no lights on? And what are your feelings of a town turned twisted and inside out? How exactly does an exterior become an interior? How exactly does a roof become a floor? True or False: Question 4 is the only one that matters. Please provide specific examples below.

Distance = Rate x Time

by Erik Wennermark

I am away. I am twenty-two months away from Tuscaloosa, July, 2009. I am eleven-hundred miles away from Tuscaloosa in the lobby of a hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Boston Celtics are playing basketball on the television. Men speak of ice hockey and when the doors slide open the air outside is cold and crisp.

The complimentary USA Today on the table has a picture of the wreckage on the front page; several more are tucked inside. Despite the captions, I recognize nothing. It says 15th Street—a street I drove a hundred times—but I see only broken planks and overturned cars. I see no Bowling Alley, no Smokeshop, no Taco Bell. Even my memories have been torn apart.

They do not understand you here. A man on the news last night wore an Auburn polo shirt and an Alabama baseball cap. He spoke of bleeding orange as he passed out bottles of water to those whose crimson blood dripped from eyes, elbows and dusty shins. He is a decent, God-fearing man. The viewers here do not understand. These viewers never will. In a different time the Yankees burned you to the ground. Tuscaloosa, I fear for your future.

I am sitting in a lobby in Portsmouth, New Hampshire writing in longhand about a devastation I have seen on the Internet. A cataclysm received via text message and watched on youtube; the dripping I.V. of a facebook feed. I am writing to remember a place I have often tried to forget, or at least not remember so hard and so much. It is only now that you might be gone—so they say—that I miss you for the first time. Roll Tide.


Chris Mink

Here is the Alberta Bridge where he spray painted               ROOSTER
          in blood letters

Here we were once boys and knew only
          what boys’ minds know          paper clouds so thin
the moon tore open the sky to draw its crescent in amber

Kids who died           in winter car crashes
          while another waited for the leaves to green

flowered his father with a shotgun

There was laughing               Teeth extracted as keepsakes
          We all took punches I suppose

And words thrashed about our feet             and so a heavy stomp
          as to hammer out an understanding with boot heels
against           pine-dead straw

                              that enshrouded                     snakeskin,
                              pocketknives                         dulled into dirt

Into the Black Warrior we waded                  barefoot           then bare-ass
          Some got pregnant on Wild Irish Rose

The rest made out with only limestone scars
          lips bitten just at the corner

                                                        Girls                 you see

Black-stripped land of a coalmine
          and legs around my neck                     river water up to my waist

Here             we river

Our slow-moving currents carry crawdad claws                     catfish whiskers
          bottle caps with the names rubbed off

Go easy                     we say

Years have gone

                              But longer still                     a word on an overpass


I remember day still burned in the concrete
          even to hands mud-lousy from submersion           bottled poison
river-wet with the inner-tube girls

That night we held him tight by his ankles over McFarland           the paint
          blown back on our faces

18-wheelers roared below us and I closed my eyes
          watched the colors corrugate orange and yellow

Here is today’s obituary                    We Are Old
          and we drive to a funeral to escape the sun

Here is where Tuscaloosa has erased a word           erased us all
          and I tell you what once was


by Katie Jean Shinkle

Magnolia drop, your root system
is showing—green sky, silence, green sky
where are you/how are you/lets meet here
at 8/lets meet here to eat/how can I help?

Magnolia, what is the difference
between Wednesday and Thursday
but green sky silence, green sky
destruction, green sky are you alive.

Where are you/how are you/lets meet
here/how can I help you, Magnolia,
I am worried, Magnolia, I am scared,
drop, drop, drop your root system—

the difference between Thursday and
Wednesday a funnel, an echo.


by Carrie Chappell

You are not just a swarm of mosquitoes,
Sweat around my neck, a forest of poetic
Kudzu, a whistle-stop. You are not just a tub
Of sweet tea, a gravy biscuit, a one-screen
Theater. Tuscaloosa, you are not just. A wrinkle
‘Round my eye, a city of ghosts, a trip
To the thrift store, a court house. O,
Tuscaloosa, you are not just. I lie
In your Dolly Parton Sunday mornings,
In the hammock of your strip mall, in your
Puddles of bourbon, in your beds of
Catfish. Tuscaloosa, queen city, reverend
Mother. You are not just.

Tus-Kah-Loos-Ah. You are not just. A word.
You are not just. A night-sky-red-clay-
Crimson-tide-BBQ-moon. A yellow hammer,
A hammer and nail. You are not just. You go
Along talkative in the trees, a roaming, pockmarked
Veteran. You stammer to the thump of high heels
On green quadrangular grass. You haunt
Our library. You lounge under a historical marker,
Catching rap lyrics from an air-conditioned car.
You are over the bridge of Northport, sunbathed.
You smell like rootbeer, dying. A line of country knot,
Drying. You wrathful yell. You are an angry god.
You are not unjust. Just a godless country. Just.
Lawns of nativity. A late-night taco, a steeple
On the river, capstoning. You are a stop
On a back road from Birmingham.

Tuscaloosa, you are. The destination. Tuscaloosa,
You are as loyal as motor oil. You are the sling
Of my heart. You are not a tame bird. But
You are a steadfast winged thing. You are
A bench for reading Frank O’Hara. A stoop-less
Vista-less river walk. You are a dreamland
Of landlocked nightmares. You are unjust.
O, Tus-KAH-Loos-AH, you are a secret art
Museum. You, you. You are a smoke stack
In a smoking town. You are a lofty breeze.
A place where we live, lordly as we please.