a process. Now it is understood, called geophysics, tectonics, volcanism,
and creep. There are still cultures who have no use for words like these,
and they simply refer to it as sacred.
I could explain how Angel Falls shifts
its knickpoint and is always undercutting in its efforts. The way the
falls whet away weaker shale and sandstone, anchoring discharge, then
spill into the braided prairie river with a borrowed name—Niobrara.
But I'm not called upon to expound today.
There are no curious tourists who don't want to get too close to the thing
itself, but want enough to know how it's defined by the experts with answers
in that field.
It is Chris and I, consequences following
actions, and it is rather simple to us as we lie bare-backed against the
damp, porous stone. To us, it is always sacred. Life begins and ends in
brutality. There is no need to call it anything at all.
My younger sister spent time in a hogan
on the Arizona slice of the four corners where Navajo and Hopi are clustered
side by side. They are still poor, still alive after the multi-million
dollar promise of the uranium mines went missile and malnutrition. A small
portion of our tax money, she says, keeps them drunk and educated about
the fiscal potential of all their reservations. My sister split scrub
mesquite so the old woman who lived in a mesa shadow could spend more
time fattening goats and sheep and trying to coax the soil into produce.
Those mesas are the result of one-million
years of wind shear pushing grains of sand across the floor. The mesas
are cut by blowing sandy teeth, and only strength of composition lets
them rise above the rest of the landscape. Scarce rain, when it falls
hard, makes talus slopes in the open veins at the mesa bases.
My sister told this to the Dineh children
in the school-house, that they might know the curriculum. She explained
this to the old widow woman, who still off-handedly calls her shadow-giving
mesa sacred from the corner of her tired eyes. The children aren't too
sure about what it is they're being told to call these things. They don't
really care, it seems, she says, because they don't have any listeners
left, and their limbs are all misshapen. They are birth defects from the
dust their fathers ate in the mines.
Drizzle turns to rain, and Chris and I upturn
the canoe on a dry shelf, in protest against the May Nebraska sky. We
are wet enough, and the river is already swift and crafty. Still, it is
safer than the highway, though our tax-dollars preserve the pavement nicely
and keep it, for the most part, predictable. On the highway, at least
we can see where some of the money goes.
Chris opens a beer. I light a cigarette.
Rain, steadier now, bangs the canoe over our heads and runs off in a sluice
before tangling itself up in river. We'll hold out, I think, until the
storm blows over.
I was watching the radar, and hook echoes were red-inching
towards us, said the Doppler. I got in the car drunk, and hauled in John
to go chase.
There was a black stripe across the siren
blaring sky, and we drove away from the town through sheeting rain, heading
for the heartbeat of the bad energy.
We stopped for more beer at a Quickie outside
Clinton Lake. A woman was pacing frantic nervous behind the counter. I
"Y'all see anything?"
"No ma'am, but we aim to."
All her strength was in her trembles as
she made change and pressed dimes
into my palms. I didn't want pity, but it came.
"Look," I said above the sirens,
"see that oak out there?'
She nodded frantically, pressed a hand to
"That thing gets to bucking funny,
and you get into that walk-in cooler, you hear me?"
She nodded, and terror played in her eyes.
I went on in spite of.
"That thing's vacuum sealed reinforced
steel, and even if this roof goes sky-high ass over teakettle, you'll
be snug in there."
She started to cry. Sirens swung away and
back around again. Rain thickened, and John leaned on the horn. I could
feel her begging us to stay until things blew over, but her mouth couldn't
follow suit, and the world ain't made easier by others protecting you
from the worst of it. I snatched up the beer case and wagged my finger.
"Watch that tree like I said!"
I yelled above the wind. "And don't lock this door neither! Other
folks might need a safe place to be!"
John's face was sweating nervous. I handed
him a beer. Pebbles scraped across the parking lot, birds flew crazy in
the sky, and we headed for Osage county with hail drumming off our thin
tin shield, trying to break into us both.
The river is creeping onto our shelf, and Chris is
crying. So am I. It's not easy here, and the rain is showing no signs
of letting up.
I'm thinking things through. My cousin Robert
is in Iraq, shooting people up for gasoline and the stock market. He sent
me a letter last month, wondering how I was doing, sad that he'd served
his tour and then got another six-ten months tacked on in exchange. "It
isn't easy taking someone's life," he said "especially someone
you don't know. I just keep myself going by thinking about all those innocent
folks dying in those twin-towers in New York, and catfishing in our favorite
hole down on the `Cygnes when I come back. Wishing you well, trying not
to get my ass shot off. Sincerely, Robert." I miss my cousin. I know
his eyes will never be the same, over there, protecting us innocents,
wading through oil-fields and the spilled brains of dead futures.
The power-lines are jumping, and John and I bump fists
going after another beer. It's taking the edge off, and we need that right
now. We're caught in straight-line gusts, and even full gas is veering
us left as the funnel forms. Cows scream in open pastures at the horror
of the present sky or the factories in their future. The man on the radio
interrupts Tim McGraw's singing about where the green grass grows, watching
his corn pop up in rows, and implores east Osage and west Douglas to head
for basements or sturdy tubs. He says it's a big one, a mile wide, and
Pomona has just been leveled.
The sign on Douglas County 1060 says Pomona,
20. The dust is sucking away towards the wind, and as we crest a bluff
in Quenemo, the black source is before us, blistering the floodplain of
Hundred Mile Creek and the oxbow elbows of the Marais de Cygnes. Like
the sound coming through an angry fiddle when charged hand-dives force
the bow, the storm grows before our eyes. The reception is lost. Even
trusted airwaves have slackened and squelched into meaningless noise.
All things move when prompted. All things yield to fury.
John lived through Andover and the floods
of '93, same as me, and we've never seen the likes. The drunk wears off
quick, death spins lumber and livestock, chewed up dreams puked out in
mid-air. Somewhere in that belly is Pomona and Melvern, a general store
and a post-office and a paper route, and the hunger still grows. A trooper
flies by us, sirens on, a senseless blur wrapped up in a fear for life
that refuses to see us sitting still on the hill-top, frozen, white, and
reckoning. People afraid of their lives will tell you that all hicks are
dumb, and only trash lives in a trailer. They have a sadistic urge to
give everything they can't understand some kind of name.
Thunder mixes with the rain, and the river is coming
up fast. Soaked and cold, we push the canoe up nettles, hogthistle, and
coneflower, and head for the bunchgrass. We were too drunk this morning
to consider dry wood, and we didn't care about the forecast. Sometimes
you learn more without the sun, and life needs it all to make any kind
Chris starts singing to kill the noise and
fear, and I find myself humming
along. We can't stay away much longer. Folks were creased-brow wondering
before we left, and spawned discussions are likely replacements by now.
It was too late. We were too awestruck and terrified
to move. The car was bucking, and we knew it wouldn't hold if we didn't
turn around. The rain stopped, the noise lifted, and pieces of torn apart
things fell through the silence.
"Let's get the fuck out of here! We're
Gonna die anyway.
I peeled around on the quivering blacktop
and laid into the accelerator. The rear-view held the fattening twister
and ninety is faster than sixty, but the slight distance we were creating
was not a safe one, or so the lurching car told us as we slid through
familiar curves, praying the tires would hold.
"Weather" is derived from a
larger manuscript entitled Roadhead, which details the travels
(past and present) of two young men on the run. This particular excerpt
deals with storms, in every sense, and how they can affect memory, judgment,
and everything else. In other words, (corny as it sounds) how we are constant
mirrors for the world around us, like it or not.