Rain Coming—For Pete Fairchild

By Lori Howe

All that June,
we stood on sidewalks
and on the prairie,
in front and backyards
and outside the hardware store,
in furrows
and corrals,
looking skyward, all of us,
as though cast in an apocalyptic film,
impotent, waiting
for a meteor
to knock the very earth
from her axis.

It felt like that, not the rain
we awaited,
but its absence.
In the always-wet month of June,
the prairies withered,
heat-scorched as August,
only virga teased the air
between earth and clouds,
and the high plains became an ossuary
for sad, brittle bones,
the newborn of the wild herds
too small
to weather the heat,
to reach the secret, wet places.

All across the high plains,
ranchers lay awake at night,
staring into drought-dark nothing,
the scent of failure
humming close,
like a memory of locusts.

In town, too, we stood tasting the air
for water,
scrying the patterns of leaves
turned up in the wind,
the direction of birds,
myopic stages of the moon.
All around us, the west caught fire
and held it.
From skies opaque
with smoke,
ash fell onto our porches
and into our hands
as we stared skyward,
praying for rain.

July:
a bare smattering at first,
not enough to wet a sidewalk, really,
dark, bitter jewels that broke hard
and meant nothing.

Then, a graceful glaze on windows,
tracing down to the open mouth of the land,
came into its full self
all at once, pouring off roofs
and pooling on ground cracked and brittle as an old boot…
a slow and grateful
sinking in.

Five weeks of rain.
Rain in August—
daily rain. Rain ankle-deep
in the street,
rain in gutters, rain on hats,
glad, shining rain
on cars and cattle and tractors
turning everything,
everything,
into its richer self
and the prairie green
as spring
and flung with flowers.

Even now, with the heat broken,
when the afternoons darken
and the rain comes in,
we stop talking, put down our pencils
and tools
and thoughts,
walk away, outside,
to watch it,
the feathered sweep of wet fingers
over the mountains,
an easy, lavender falling,
so dear to us that we scarcely dare
to trust rain now.
Like love,
we have known ourselves
without it,
wanting vainly to close our hands
around something precious
that cannot be held.

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Categories: Issue 6, Poetry | Leave a comment

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