The Mother Warns the Tornado

Tornado, I am a greedy son of a bitch, and there I know we are kin.

Addressing the Tornado

We talked with "The Mother Warns the Tornado" poet Catherine Pierce and filmmaker Isaac Ravishankara.


Screenshot 2015-10-07 00.57.48Interview with Catherine Pierce

by Maggie Roy, Motionpoems Citizen Journalist

Catherine Pierce studied poetry throughout her undergrad and graduate education (earning a B.A. from Susquehanna University, an M.F.A. from Ohio State, and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri). But she was writing poetry from childhood on, and always knew she wanted to pursue it in some way. Pierce loves that she has found a way to make it a key part of her life.

Catherine Pierce

What was the inspiration for the poem?

On April 27, 2011, the day of the tornado outbreak that killed over 300 people and injured many more, I was in Cullman, Alabama with my husband and infant son when an EF-4 tore through that town. Those moments of waiting while the tornado passed (we were huddled in the lobby bathroom of a Days Inn) really crystallized for me both the intensity of love I had for my child and what real, immediate fear felt like—not fear of something that might happen in the future, but a visceral fight-or-flight fear.

I’d been sort of stuck, writing-wise, since the birth of my son (the sleep deprivation wasn’t helping, either), but I’d been planning to write a series of poems from the point of view of a tornado; after that day, I realized that the scope of that series had to be big enough to include not only the tornado but the lives it impacted.

Emotions run high throughout the entire poem with a change in viewpoints from start to end. What message are you trying to get readers to understand?

Tornadoes are terrifying to me for any number of perfectly rational reasons, but the one irrational reason is that they seem to have agency, seem to be making careful decisions about where they’ll go and what they’ll destroy. For that reason, it made sense to me to write a poem from the perspective of someone addressing the tornado directly, as if it could understand and—perhaps—listen.

What thoughts were running through your head as you were writing the poem?

Although the poem isn’t entirely autobiographical (we were in a motel lobby bathroom, not in a bathtub in our house; my husband was there, too), I was absolutely reliving the terror and rage and furious love I had felt in those moments of waiting to see what the tornado would do.

What do you think of the film now that it is complete?

I think the film is incredible. I’m bowled over by how powerful and visceral it is, and also by how beautiful. There are so many small moments here—the lizard, the shot of the boy’s feet, the mother opening her eyes—that just undo me each time I see them, and I love the way the film slowly ratchets up the tension. I knew, from talking with Isaac at the outset of the project, that he connected with the poem exactly as I hoped someone would, but what he ended up making surpassed what I could have imagined. I just love everything about this film, and am so grateful to have been introduced to Isaac’s work.

Interview with Isaac Ravishankara

by Maggie Roy, Motionpoems Citizen Journalist

Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you wanted to be a filmmaker.

I grew up next to the mountains in Boulder, Colorado as the son of a doctor mother and a scientist father. I guess I’ve always been fascinated with trying to figure the world out…I actually went to school to study physics. But there was always an urge to be making things—especially with friends. We started making movies with my parents’ video cameras when we were in elementary school, and I guess I never stopped.

I think the thing I’m always striving for in film is to put all of that together in one—to figure out some little thing about the way the world works, and to figure out a way to communicate that to other people. Sometimes it’s just a single emotion, and sometimes its an entire story.

What do you like best about this poem? Why did you want to be the filmmaker for this particular piece?

From the first time I read the poem, it always really gripped me to my core. The final lasting image—the mother, trying to give shape and form to this otherwise abstract idea, only so that she is able to make it tangible enough that she feels empowered to ward it off. I’ve always felt that this is my mother—the strongest of wills, she would always do anything for us.

Below is an excerpt from a thank you note that I wrote to everyone who was a part of this project, that I think puts my sentiments into better words than I could otherwise:

I wanted to say THANK YOU, and I just wanted to say that, and I wanted to say a little bit more. Because I’m greedy. Because we all are. Because in some ways, that’s what life is all about. 

That is what Catherine and I spoke about when we first discussed this piece. The idea that at our core, we are all greedy forces of nature. 
And in this way, mother and tornado are alike. 

A tornado, after all, just takes and takes: dirt, trees, houses, cows, anything. But so does she. And each of us. Every day. 
Greedily taking in and holding on to the pleasures in life. 

One thing, above all else, that we are greedy with is our children. 

And my Mother is the fiercest lover and protector I have ever known. 
The one I could imagine who would literally stand up to a tornado. 
Who would invent for it a throat and choke it. 
Who would do anything for her children. 

And in always doing so. 
She’s allowed me this life I have. 
To have more than I deserve. 
To hopefully provide the same shelter 
To children of my own some day. 

I want to dedicate my part of this project to Her. 

And I want us all to remember, 

That the greediest force of nature is Time. 
More than every tornado, it takes and takes and takes. 
Taking our seconds, and days, and years, and lives away. 
Without a care in the world. 

We’ve all already had more than we deserve. 
But we can all still be greedy sons of bitches 
With our loved ones and our loving moments. 
Holding them tight. Being their shelter. 

What was most difficult about creating this film?

I first spoke to Catherine Pierce about the project in the fall of 2014. I knew from the second I read the poem that I wanted to make this piece, and I knew from that moment that it needed to show a mother with a child who was actually her son. It wasn’t until March of this year that I was introduced to Dianna and her son Gus. I knew from the moment they invited me into their home that they would be the family around which we would build this piece.

The real feeling of the piece came together in post production. There is absolutely NO WAY this film would have come together the way it did without the amazing insight from our editor, Jamie Foord at Rock Paper Scissors, who just kept making it more and more and more EMOTIONAL with every edit. And then we still had NO IDEA how we were going to make this feeling so tangible, but the team of artists at A52 not only dreamt up the tornado, but made it REAL. Of course, there are the shots where we SEE the thing, but they made sure we FELT it in nearly every shot leading up to the conclusion.

I think all of the people who collaborated with me on the project made sure that, despite the difficulties that could have possibly arisen, I only ended up facing excitement and joy. That’s how you know you are working with the right folks. I’m so grateful.

Did the film turn out how you had originally hoped?

Yes and no. We were able to bring so many of my original ideas about that piece that stemmed from conversations with Catherine to life… But then again, we were able to elicit SO MUCH MORE out of the material than I could have imagined.

It’s not a complex story we’re telling—a mother, protecting her son in a bathtub, decides to step outside and stare down a tornado. But the the emotional dynamic of the narrative is so much more than I ever thought it could be.

Maggie-Roy-150x150Maggie Roy is currently attending Southwest Minnesota State University to earn a degree in Communications Studies: Public Relations and also a minor in Marketing. She completed an internship with Motionpoems to assist with different social media platforms.