Heat Lightning in
a Time of Drought
neighbor, drunk, stood on his lawn and yelled,
Want some! Want some! He bellowed it as cops
cuffed him, shoved him in their back seat -- Want
and drove away. Now I lie here awake,
not by choice, listening to the crickets' high
trill, urgent with lust. Heat lightning flashes.
The crickets will not, will not stop. I wish
that I could shut
the window, pull the curtain, sleep.
But it's too hot. Want some! He screamed it till
I was afraid I'd
made him up to scream
what I knew better than to say out loud
although it's August-hot and every move
me in sweat and we are careless,
careless, careless, every one of us,
and when my neighbor screams out in his yard
like one dog howling for another dog,
I call the cops, then lie in my own sweat,
remembering the woman
at a party on a night this hot,
walked up to me, propped her chin on my chest,
and sighed. She was a little drunk,
unshielded in her eyes. We fell in love.
One day at supper the light fixture dropped,
on the table. Glass flew around us,
a low, slow-motion blossoming of razors.
She was unhurt till I reached out my
-- left hand -- to brush glass from her face.
Two drops of blood ran down her cheek.
On TV, I'd seen a
teacher dip a rose
in liquid nitrogen. When he withdrew it,
it smoked, frozen solid. He snapped one petal, frail
as isinglass, and then, against the table,
he shattered it. The whole rose blew apart.
Like us. And then one day
the doorbell rang.
A salesman said, Watch this! He stripped my bed
and vacuumed it. The nozzle sucked up
full, measured cups of light gray flakes. He said,
That's human skin. I stood, refusing the purchase,
stood staring at her flesh and mine commingled
inside the measuring cup, stood there and thought
gone two years, she's married, and all this time
her flesh has been in bed with me. Don't laugh.
laugh. That's what the Little Moron says
when he arrives home early from a trip
and finds his wife in bed with someone
The man runs off. The Little Moron puts
a pistol to his own head, cocks the hammer.
His wife, in bed,
sheets pulled up to her breasts,
starts laughing. Don't you laugh! he screams. Don't laugh -
next. It is the wisest joke I know because
the heart's a violent muscle, opening
and closing. Who knows what
we might do:
by night, the craziness of dreams; by day,
the craziness of logic. Listen!
My brother told me
of a man wheeled, screaming,
into the ward, a large Coke bottle rammed
up his ass. I was awed: there is no telling
what we'll do in our fierce drive to come together.
The heart keeps opening and closing like a mine
still burns, a century underground,
following the veins of black coal, rearing up
to take a barn, a house, a pasture.
I wish that it would rain tonight, I fret
about the heat lightning that flicks and glitters
horizon as if it promised rain.
It can't. But I walk outside, stand on parched grass,
and watch it hungrily -- all
light, all dazzle --
remembering how we'd drive out past the town's light,
sit on the hood, and watch great thunderheads
huge as a state -- say, Delaware -- sail past. Branched
lightning jagged, burst the dark from zenith to horizon.
We stared at almost nothing: some live oaks,
the waist-high corn. Slow raindrops smacked the corn,
the dirt around up, drummed the roof,
and finally reached out, tapped us on the shoulders.
We drove home in the
downpour, laughed, made love
-- still wet with rain -- and slept. But why stop there?
Each happy memory leads me
to a sad one:
the friend who helped me through my grief by drinking
all of my liquor. And when, at last, we reached
the wretched mescal, he carefully sliced off
the worm's black face, ate its white body, staggered
onto this very
lawn, and racked and heaved
until I helped him up. You're okay, John.
You've puked it out. "No man
-- you're wrong. That worm
ain't ever coming out." Heat lightning flashes.
No rain falls and no thunder cracks
No first concussion dwindles to a long
low rolling growl. I go in the house, lie down,
drift to the edge of sleep.
I wish my soul were larger than it is.r,
drunk, stood on his lawn and yelled,