Tuesday, January 10, 2012

`The Lightning Teased Again'

I got water in my shoes on Monday while navigating a flooded street on the way to the library, not a problem I’ve had since returning to Houston. I squeaked my way through the shelves. Back in the office I wrung out my socks, draped them over the back of a chair and stuffed my shoes with paper towels. I haven’t worked barefoot in years.

Texas had its driest year on record in 2011. The statewide average rainfall was 14.88 inches. Across the last century, Texas averaged 27.92 inches of rain per year. On Saturday I drove past a small city park that until several months ago was a dense grove of loblolly pines. The drought killed them and the city cut them down. Now it’s as flat and bare as a parking lot.

We woke to lightning and distant thunder Monday morning, but we’ve been teased so often I ignored the fuss. I was already on campus when rain started falling in earnest. Winds pushed it through the cloistered walkways between buildings, and through my window I could see it moving horizontally. Some areas got 4.5 inches of rain in a few hours. Soon, each tree stood in a puddle like a fancy swizzle stick in a big cocktail. Birds and squirrels disappeared. Grass turned green again and I could smell the earth.

Over the weekend I learned of the death of Marion Montgomery at the age of eighty-six in November. He was a poet, novelist and critic who taught at the University of Georgia for more than thirty years. He was a man of the South, a traditionalist and a serious Roman Catholic. Last year I read his two-volume work about his friend Flannery O’Connor, Hillbilly Thomist (McFarland & Co., 2006). Here is the title poem in his first collection, Dry Lightning (University of Nebraska Press, 1960):

“`If…if it don’t rain soon,’ he said
And kicked his foot in the dust to finish out the threat.
The grey puffs settled on his shoes,
Cracked like the bottom where corn sagged

“`If it don’t rain soon…’
A hot breeze rustled in the field,
On beyond the line of hills dry lightning raised a noncommittal glow.
`If it don’t rain…’
The lightning teased again.”

[Go here to read an interview with Montgomery.]

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