A Diffident Heaven
Spring storms plate the walls pewter, affixing the metals of light. Place domineers here: it fates the light and the hierarch tiers of mountain slate which dictate the difficult winding roads coal trucks gouge and pleat. Tuesday, I drove past three shanties built of plastic, plyboard and tin foundered on a ridge too thin for houses. Blue tarps mended one, lending it a gaiety that hurt. The store nearby was taciturn: "Junk," it said, and spurned Nothing—hats, washers, doors. The latter were up-ended in rows like books pressing between them the airs of abandoned rooms. A barn beside it of corrugated tin said in faded black and gold, "Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco." Further on, a half-mile long coke plant sported twenty flumes, and flame panted and pointed from two thirty-foot stacks. The off-ramp sign posted nearby said "Belle." The river pleated and dimpled with light beyond it. Here too, native violets and dandelions cohabit on lawns and rural road-cuts: purple and yellow, yin and yang, clash and complement, signs of the land's contrary powers. All night, Spring storms worry the native dogwood, whose rust-pink flowers don't appear in the field guide. The four petals, thumb-wide, waxy and thick, rust-notched at each tip, shade to ivory then peridot at the calyx. Each cups its seed in clutches of green buck-shot. The notched petals form a cross—Celtic— the stigmata warn and mourn. We heard too as we drove West Virginia's almost heaven the seventy kinds of singing birds Copeland evokes. The narrow hills were tufted with trees just leafing out, barely furred, chartreuse and blurrily immature like young men's beards, but the slopes were aged like old men's skulls, sparsely whiskered, hairs spooked erect by a scare. Underneath, a buried hub of machinery spins— a diffident heaven's factory.
Light ….is one and the same with fire. —Aristotle
We forget that fire is the sire of light, that even the tungsten trees in light bulbs must burn to make the yellow egg light. But the dry woods catching fire on the succeeding waves of ridges remind us. Juniper and poplar, already torch-shaped, flash into flame, martyrs to our heedless love of fire. They redden the smoke they billow for miles. The trees are phoenixes, both pyre and fuel, destined to rise years later from the feathers of ash. But the sun self-immolates, you say, and blink, foresighted, as those who can die just once are.
Mud Daubers and Orbweavers
The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection.... the monstrum is etymologically “that which reveals,” “that which warns…”
—Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Theory
The mud-daubers make paper maché organ pipes under my eaves while the cardinals purloin the letters off the Baptists’ sign, “Jesus Saves.” The S’s and J they dangle on the walnut tree—they’re Jesuits—with lost earrings and dried cherry stems curled like apostrophes, though nothing’s owned or owing. The birds ignore the mud-daubers despite the light they shed on how to fill your house with little horrors. The news says the drought kills recluses and gray wolf spiders. But the mud daubers will survive on the many species of orbweavers. Whatever else the large mind imagined, emporiums of opalescent clouds, “Girl With a Pearl,” toothy and toothsome animals with striped and speckled hides, it also hides in the mud-daubers’ larvae special chemicals that digest spiders, armor, venom, and all, both awful and marvelous, like us.