We’ve sat on the porch and watched and listened to many summer thunderstorms roll our western horizon like a horde, like a million soldier army with only two feet, stepping heavy cannonade in between neighborhoods. Not last night. The cell was right over us. Shaking the house. Lighting up the bedroom like paparazzi peeking through our windows. Thunder seeming to ooze out from under us like worms out of the mud. Never would have believed it came from above. The house and farm was pounded by rain, and warned by lightning, we had our foundations tested for cracks of weakness. And we passed. We have too many, and they’ve all started working together to coincide like roots, and we held, broken as can be, more flexible for it. The baby that passes for a little boy didn’t lose a minute of sleep. Counted three corn stalks down. This calm, powder navy blue morning keeps last night’s weather like a secret. If you didn’t wake up from your dreams, watch daylight flash through sealed shut eyes, feel the monster knock up from under the bed hello, you would never know it had happened. That pleasant sounding, captured in a bottle, fun little Southern Summer thunder had stepped clean over our heads last night. Sparing us, but not before scaring us. We woke up this morning talking about last night like we both had the same nightmare.
And somewhere across the countryside, someone sat on their back deck grinning.
Our nightmare was their atmosphere for the evening.
The river always wanted to climb a mountain. Watch it. Rising higher. Growing whiter. Wilder. Spitting out tree trunks roots still attached. Streams and creeks and snaking roadway gutters running fast as they can to get down off the mountain. Sweating. Soiled. Stumbling several steps, unstoppable. Making a run on the banks. The river wants to take its money and run. It wants to climb a mountain. So it eats them. Inch by mile etched furrows that segment land masses and imperfectly complete them. One side to the other. Between ridges. The irony to write here how rivers are like bridges. How often roads run along them. Set their course on them. Bows up all proud in the summer brown shoulders and swallowing boulders reaches out a hand, and rivers and roads will dance. All twisted tightly together in and throughout the sharp, river etched mountains of southwest Virginia. But when the music has ended, there are places the road must go where the river can not follow. And there are places where the road can not stand it any longer, and takes off headlong down the mountain after it. The two are tied together, linked, but it would be a mistake to take it as indication of similarity. The river always wanted to be a mountain. It is always eating rocks and mud and trees and things.
But every road is already a river.
Anyone who has ever built a road or trail knows, or even just looked close.
It’s like my grandfather would say.
Don’t build a house below the road.
The road glistens, like a mirror in some places, for the yellow trees above. With the window cracked, people listen to our music as they pass. Eavesdrop fragments of our conversation. Another sort of mirror. The words of other people when they think no one is listening. Rained all night. The road is glistening. Cars are ripping sheets of paper driving past. Shushing soggy leaves. Gone. Dry in one day of sunshine and dust rises from the dirt road. The whole landscape flushes like a commode, and weeks of rain does what water does best. It moves on. In autumn, leaves dream of being flowers and take on such vibrant colors, and petal upturned as they faint and fall in turn. Laying down carpet like middle aged men with stained rock hands.
It rains for days and the world never even thinks to apologize for it. Mean old world. Cold. Mouthy. Always tent flapping yapping black bird wing clapping branch snapping firelight and hot chocolate when you need it sappy. Sweet things. Mean words. Sour apologies turned sweet wine by time. North country. Water town. Rain cloud crowns. And cold upstate royalty. Hard ice loyalty. Turned summertime thaws. Winter snows. But rain falls. And roads glisten.
And the iron trees dress up in colors bright as flowers.
Rain that comes straight down. So hard it gets a second chance to jump back up from underneath. Soaks everything. Soaks me. Left the doors off the jeep. I know the eyes that followed me home. Brunette debts paid to dirty blond actresses with deep dark pupils planted center. Bare rose bushes. Gravel wash out. Darker than December at five o’clock in the afternoon. Indigestion rumbles in the distance. Hooded women are running to their cars. We are all praying for someone to get home safe. North Carolina summer. East coast storms. We are all walking on water. In a thousand different forms. The geese love it. Stopped in the road four fluffy children in a row waddling after the great sleek black-neck honking at cars with foggy windows. We swim in lakes that were not there one hundred years ago. We burn the stagnate relics off ancient jungles in our engines like it was nothing, ascend their toxic spirit so that even paradise has a few holes punched in it. All alone wrapped up in waning swiss cheese ozone. Dear God. Make us a sandwich. Lettuce smeared in mayonnaise clouds and a sopping wet sliced red tomato for sun. Dripping sticky rain that soaks in and leaves stains. Sunkissed skin and moonlicked and cooked dark and broiled brown. Pink fingernails in black settings. Red knuckles etched with white scars. Words. That fill your head with pictures. Clouds. That soak the ground with rain. Seasons. Far more than four. Within these southern summers. Spring and fall on each side like soggy bread.
Morning is a season.
So is the evening.
All on it’s own.
Don’t be surprised to wake up in heaven.
And drive through a little hell to get home.
Auburn horizons with a purple tinge.
Fields of once white snow grow colored creme de la creme.
Cinnamon trees mixed in.
White lights slow strobe on distant radio towers.
And giant concrete straws blow bubbles of steam
in long trains that fade into brown clouds.
Snow soft as down falls apart in breath.
A foot or so of depth.
Ice layer beneath that.
From so much unexpected rain.
Dropped fifty degrees.
In the short course of a single day.
And the purple horizon.
The pink sun rises.
The rain intends to stay.
The smell of cold. Dry. Sharp. A little sour white wine.
Whereas, usually, white wine is sweet. This winter is bitter.
Ice like bulletproof glass like stemware cupping all this snow
like a lightning slick bowl. Buried beneath flimsy bubbly
porous wine kept at the top of the refrigerator
too close to the freezer.
Chunky and slushy and heavy on the bottom with dirty foam on top.
Smell it. When you open the door. First thing.
The fuzzy insides of your nostrils stiffen.
Lungs have frosty fingers playing them like accordions.
Cheeks are numb and lips become brittle.
A season all on its own.
Icey disposition head buried in snow.
It is bitter weather.
It climbs into the fruit.
And it changes the flavor of the wine.
At another time, it could have been sweet.
But not this season. Too dry.
Just a thick sniff of it,
will freeze a tear to your eye.
Rows of white teeth hungry for gray water as wind blows more constant than the sun shines. Light at least goes to bed at night. But the wind does not abstain. In fact, it grows fangs, and prowls hedgerows and leaps out from house corners. Moves tarps across the yard and carelessly leaves soggy cardboard in puddles. Pushes so hard, gray water grows navy in a slow-chugging belt to overtake the lake. Clouds come in like cavalry swinging swords of sunlight in pastel tangerine rays. Brandishing brand new stratus stripes and cumulus commissions and very cirrus medals that might one day make this storm a general. A hundred puffy gold-traced horses at the head of a high army. Little mangy islands like warts on the horizon. Bare trees from scratching off fleas and some poor soul built a house right in the middle. Lake bitten and horse ridden for sure. Eyes drink up the whole scene like that strip of sandbar close to shore makes this mess a black and tan. Cream crashing in rows as the wind blows more constant than even the sun shines. Brain belches and stomach stretches and the throat behind eyes strains to drain the four and a half million acre mug. Drinking in a great lake like it was dark frothy beer. Wind as steady as what you hear with a conch shell over your ear. Finally aware there is an ocean in the air. Brushing the bright white teeth of lake Ontario so that its gray gums recede and those thick calcium roots can be seen digging deep navy. Belts of blue greasily sliding across each chipped tooth. And everything, eyes and mind and the worlds they have written, looking bitten.
Since when is apocalypse an acceptable weather report?
This country gets bad storms. Or didn’t you notice
the people who loaned it to us were nomads.
They chased the good weather.
Sought out light winter like geese.
The ground shakes an awful lot in this country.
And it is kind of broken in the middle
so close to cracking geysers jet tail hot water heavenward
blowing off steam several times a day. Oceans change.
Always have. Hell, there used to be one right here
above my head. In the heart of Virginia.
Buried by hillsides.
I don’t think apocalypse means what we think it means.
If so, I predict a little bit of apocalypse at the tail end
of just about every single one of these new seasons.
This continent didn’t stay this wild this long on accident.
Trust me. It has its reasons.
It is amazing what wind brings to the world.
A long travelled breeze.
Here to see hair lifted.
Made light with spirits.
Exhaled like hot breath from some southern ocean.
Sun-governed beaches lapped by rabble rousing water.
Thrown up moisture with hands in prayer.
Here is your answer right here at some distant place on the earth.
Cold air against warm shoulders and worth, moving in the wind.
Like dying could be cast off and flung into the air
for some strange distant person to hear,
who might find amazement at it.
Who might call it worth.
This summer has baptized the countryside clean.
And made mosquitoes mean. Chasing more than mere satisfaction.
Too many of them plunging their slurping syringes after too little blood.
I wonder how John spoke of baptism when there was a flood.
Banks swallowed up and digested, submerging questionable folks
below the chomping void of bare tooth gums moving orange water.
Putting heads under surfaces under hands which come up emptied.
Cleansed. Refreshed. Renewed. Reclaimed by fast-flowing currents.
And drown, down, white doves of white imagination descend
upon a little one laid down in the road.
Surrounded by other powder gray doves,
who launch at my loud passing, while one remains,
injured in some way, unable to move herself,
while cars roar past in waves,
to truly, irreparably, explosively crash.
Shattered glass and bent frames of bolted metal.
How would John use water to wash away engine oil?
This summer, baptism has not been a gentle trickling bath,
but an angry surge. This went way beyond cleansing.
Last summer was a purge.