August 5, 2014
Storms rolled through the country this morning. I awoke at five, stared at the peeling paint of the bedroom ceiling and was rocked by the violence of lightning and the concussion of thunder. I expected that more trees may have fallen in my yard, but my forest remnant was intact.
I got dressed, retrieved my travel mug from a kitchen cabinet, and drove to the Mehlville Dairy, really just a gas station and convenience store, morning coffee a mere fifty-one cents. Heavy clouds charged from the southwest, piling up like dark-colored bed pillows.
I filled my mug with coffee, passing the array of chocolate muffins and the large box of fresh Duke Bakery doughnuts, the jelly-filled ones calling my name. Most of the time I can resist the call; some of the time I succumb.
I walked back out to the car . . . and there, to the west: “sunset,” one enormous white cloud reflecting pale pink and orange light. The dark cloud pile had split, revealing a long tunnel and a hole of blue sky in the spinning purple storm mass, and in that vortex was vibrant light, even as thunder roiled. The rising sun fed light to the cloud mouth, the brilliance of which reflected back to earth. I was bathed in west light, and I dared think it was evening, me with coffee I dared not drink, or sleep would not come.
I thought of “I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down,” the masterful short story collection by the Southern Gothic writer god, William Gay. Two years ago, I made a pilgrimage to William’s cabin, on Little Swan Creek, in the woods outside Hohenwald, Tennessee. William’s son Chris and I had stood in just this same light, in light drizzle, my body electric from having sat in the very chair where William had died.
This sunset at sunrise was a portal, I decided, to the universe of William and Flannery and Eudora and Faulkner and Larry Brown. One cannot write one’s self to immortality, but one can leave behind volumes of words, for burning or reading or decoration.
On the three minute drive home, my mug of black coffee between my bare knees, I “saw” Eudora’s enduring sister woman who lives in the post office to escape her sister’s sassy mouth, of Faulkner’s Joe Christmas and his travails in a white man’s world, of Larry Brown’s debauched Joe and his redemption, and Flannery’s sour old woman crushed by a marauding bull and William Gay’s old man who escapes from the old folks home and goes back to life.
Yesterday, Kim, a former student of mine—I was her music teacher when she was a teen, in Chicago—and her husband and sons visited Genehouse. We took a tour, of the Genehouse walk, of the great river cliffs east of Grafton. We drove through Elsah, the one local town where, minus the cars and electric wires and paved narrow streets, one would not be surprised to see Tom Sawyer come out of one of the historic houses and whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence.
Aunt Polly is as alive for me as all the wonderful women who bless my life. I am tempted to say, this gift of imagination is a uniquely human construct. Yet, I watch my cat stalk a lifeless, stuffed mouse, toss the “mouse” all over the house, dream and retract and flail with her claws at “enemies.”
Art comes alive at sunrise’s sunset, when the river is enshrouded in coils of thick fog, when the trees drip with sips of gin-flavored rain, when the hummingbirds walk on water, when fawns rub their black noses against my window, when skyward portals open us to possibilities.
Or close us, when that evening sun goes down, uncertain black and white flowers of the uncertain garden that we are.