My back yard was a river fed by a spring in the sky. My boots filled with water. I opened
the big wooden gate to let it out, but it was flowing too fast and hard. I grabbed a spade
from the garage and ditched alongside the house to keep the water from the door. Digging
was easy because the soggy earth spooned up like pudding. Standing in the torrent was
hard. The side door was boarded up with half-inch plywood to stop burglars, but it was helpless against the prying fingers of water. Most of the boxes were stacked on boards over two-by-fours to keep them off the floor, but not all. Some got wet. I salvaged what I could, but I lost a lot of books that day.
The flood was a surprise because my house was on top of a hill. I bought one on high ground, because I had seen the Souris River crest in North Dakota, filled sandbags at the dikes, watched carp swim down Oak Street, and witnessed manhole covers blown into the air by back pressure. I knew that water flowed downhill. I had never expected it to run calf-deep along the ridge.All along the hillside, the storm massed its forces and funneled into the concrete culvert inside the Interstate loop. It rushed across the road, burst through the front windows of the brick apartments and crashed out the back walls. It shattered the plate glass of the corner Stop-and-Go and carried shelves of bread and magazines into treetops a mile downstream. It gripped the house of Ji-won Lee, my laboratory assistant, in a four foot fist of muddy bilge so fast, that had he been there, he would have had to swim out. Fortunately, he and Miju were visiting his sister in San Francisco.
He returned a week later to a neighborhood of water-lined houses cordoned off by the
police, with Red Cross volunteers lined up in trucks handing out cleaning supplies. I loaned
him my tools and showed him how to chalk-line, cut, hang, tape and float sheet rock. I
went over with Ken and we cut the lawn and cleaned the yard. He had no flood insurance
because the seller had insisted it wasn’t necessary, in spite of a notice in the finance papers that said if he didn’t buy it the lien holder would do it at his expense. He gave up for a while, trying to get the city to buy his house like others in the neighborhood, but they never did. He took a month of leave and worked on drying and repairing it to the point that his family could move back in.
I came in to work one morning and he had been there. Alongside the fax machine was a Cosmo, one of those long stem daisy flowers with purple petals and a sun yellow center, the colors of Easter and resurrection. He left a note, “When god made flowers, she first made cosmos, so simple and so beautiful. This flower bloomed under the flood.” I made a copy to keep, to remind me that if we are enlightened and our deity is a nurturing being, we can find beauty even among destruction.
When he returned the tools, he gave me two cardboard canisters of Korean tea. One was
unpolished rice and green tea. The other was Solomon’s seal, brewed from a root. It has
the taste of the earth. It is quiet and unassuming. I am drinking it as I write. On that visit,
I asked him if he wrote much poetry.
“No,” he said, “none at all. Why?”
I said, “That poem you wrote about cosmos.”
“Was that a poem?” he asked.
We talked about poetry. Miju told me about Kim Sowol and Azaleas. After they left, I found
that and some others on a web site.
He once told me that the West and the East are very different in the way they deal with
adversity. If an American is not happy with his life, he is driven to acquire more. An Asian
learns to be satisfied with less.
John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60’s, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine for $10, and became a biomedical scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing, and living with his dance partner.