Martha Otis

I think it’s better to read about history than to live it.
--Antonio Blanco, Chiquita quality control inspector,
Commenting on Hurricane Mitch

The Caribbean called me from Africa
and I was born, a warm, mid-latitude westerly.
All earthly meteorology was used
to gauge my wind speed
and track my progress across the longitudes.
A white cowlick on the hoary globe,
I rotated counterclockwise.
The world looked on.

I sped west
toward everything I did not want:
a woman who stepped from her house into the flood waters,
men who hid in schoolrooms and clung to rooftops;
thousands of foolish workers seeking refuge
on the eroded hillsides of banana plantations.
I did not take Laura Isabel Arriola de Guity,
but her husband and children.
Their livestock, house and village
slid into the mud and disappeared.
I watched her rush down the swollen river
to drift on a sea of broken bodies.
On the sixth day you sent her the duck and she spoke.
“Little duck, send a message that I’m alive.
Take me to my people. Take me to the shore.
Why don’t you take me so that I can fly somewhere with you?”

But I did not want the old woman.

I wanted, Lord, the infant.
Three days I stalled, waiting for him.
In the pressure drop a pregnant girl
fled across her roiling garden to a canoe
and there gave birth to a brown storm child.
My enormous eye rolled over their vessel.
I wanted to seize the newborn from his mother’s arms,
Take him north and rattle him
Until he coughed up for me a second eye.
He was the one I wanted,
the one I did not get.


Author Commentary: “A Hurricane Complains to God” was inspired by reading newspaper articles about Hurricane Mitch, which hung over Honduras for days in October of 1998, causing terrible destruction. The story of the woman who found hope in the duck is true.

Martha Otis has just finished a novel about a chimpanzee and is at work on her second novel and a volume of poetry,  Anthropoetica. Her work has been published in Best New American Writers, The Indiana Review, Moment, and elsewhere. She has won several awards, including the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award at the Key West Literary Seminars. She lives in Miami.