Heat and Thunder

NC Day 3 012
Photographs by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

This is a place where sky strives to
overcome water and aged rust of earth
deepens, decorates shoreline
like copper on bare skin. It rumbles
into sinew and bones. Peepers clamor, chorus.
Dusk is well laden with primal scent of
rock, teeming lake, the sponge of heat.
Day departs on vibrations of thunder.

I remember this canopy of tension,
and how royal summer sun leaves
its marks on flesh and mind,
a deep etching of my bloodline.
Sweat was evidence of industry,
nature’s work and our play, and it
leaked rivulets, gathered as bright beads.
We consented to heat’s demands or fell
into shadowed space, the breezeway.
Coolness swirled as we watched our mother
and a searing iron smooth cotton into fine art.

I know this heat’s oppression, it’s random release.
This place, discharging its cloying essence,
perhaps unforgiving, bound up
in a rapture of prayer, grief, laughter.
Being Southern was our way, a study in
drowsiness, easy talk, dignity and dreaming.
Din of cicadas and bullfrogs background songs,
and peaches so fat with sweetness they
dropped themselves into our hands.

See there: a spear of lightning charges a spot
that is unknown to me but I do yet feel it,
a sizzling clean flash that makes no wound.
Quaking clouds that can turn into killing force
now seem a surprise of reassurance.
This damp red earth cools like my blood,
and light flings its beauty over water’s body,
adornment like silk, a slow dance  of
ardent adieus, night secrets trailing me.

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Bus Stop

They used to meet here, back when things were easy. They dashed through the winter rains and caught a bus to Markham and 8th, then found their booth in a café. Leon liked the fish and salad combo; Celia dug into the Shepherd’s pie as though it was something special. Every Thursday it was lunch here and then back to their respective jobs. He was a doctor’s office assistant, taking classes at university and hoping against hope for med school. Celia danced then, hours and hours of it. Strong back and legs and a gift for lithe improvisation landed her a scholarship, then a place in the dance company. Such big talk they shared, plans growing as they ate and gabbed. Each savory lunch underscored their vitality, the possibilities.

It was odd, but suddenly things stopped for them, as though there was finally a period pressed hard into the page at the end of a series of stories. She didn’t see it coming. Nothing was resolved for Celia but Leon shrugged off her calls, his voice embarrassed and soft. They parted ways the summer of nineteen eighty-two. He married a journalist within the year and he invited Celia. She didn’t attend. She heard they ended up in New Zealand a few years later. He may have become a doctor, but she suspected he let his wife work harder. He’d liked to talk more than work (he was so good at it) and had confessed he’d always wanted to loaf on a beach.

Celia mourned despite her best intentions. Her father told her she had better do something besides weep about the rooms. Her mother said nothing, just looked at her from hooded eyes and shook her head.

On a night when the moon was so clear she could imagine living there, Celia had a vision. It left her unmoored, then sent her to back to church, the one by the bus stop, the same one where Celia and Leon had sometimes waited on shaded steps. From that point on it was as though things were meant to be. She had found a way back to a useful life and it was part solitude and part service. It was the service part that filled her up and made her strong. The solitude pared her down but it also brought things into sharper focus, sorted what mattered and what did not. She got up each day with a vivid need to give back what she found by accident the night the moon dipped low.

Still, when she and the Sisters visit this part of the city looking for homeless who needed care, Celia wondered sometimes if it was the wrong turn in the road, the moon watching, her visionary moment gone mad, the church that finally brought her to her senses and the work that now claimed her. She felt Leon’s presence like a happy breeze in the street. Only once did she feel a bit more, startled when she thought she saw his face at the bus window. It haunted her all day and into the evening as she tried to pray. It was as she lay half-sleeping that she mused it could have been his son and this cheered her. Yet, likely not. Leon had left for New Zealand thirty years ago. She had stayed and made a durable life out of other wonders. The past was something that lingered only if you let it. It was a small revelation and long in coming. The bus stop was just a bus stop; people got on, people got off. Celia sighed, turned over. Her snoring was musical, sweet as birdsong; she shifted, moved on.