Heat Lightning

Among the living, I would be pelagic, a petrel teetering on fixed wings above a fleet of sailfish. Among the petrels, I would be a fulmar, & ward off threats to my one-egg hoard with deadly projectile vomit. I am held here by a morass of trivial recollections, like Rachel pinned to her camel-hump stool by the guilty pile of gods hidden beneath it. I remember a line in a novel I read decades ago that sparked an enduring self-consciousness about the crescents of dirt under my fingernails. I remember as a kid discovering a lone raspberry cane out in the field that was dotted with dried & shrunken fruit — that feeling of sadness at a minor treasure even the sparrows overlooked. I remember hearing a Chopin piano sonata once when I was so sleep-deprived that the mere effort of listening made my chest ache. The black and the white keys were equally painful. I’ve forgotten most insults & humiliations except for those I perpetrated, which fill me with a baleful light, like an all-night laundromat. I remember, because it’s still embarassing, how old I was when I finally realized that heat lightning was nothing but ordinary lightning, too far to hear & hidden by the curve of the earth.

17 Replies to “Heat Lightning”

  1. Fascinating and almost disturbing in a dream-like way how you express this “morass of trivial recollections”, Dave! You’ve captured that feeling I sometimes get in the middle of the night when my mind won’t stop reeling over every memory and mistake in my life. I wish I could write something like this out of that mess of the mind.

  2. Whoever this person is (or was, or was/is), I’d like to read more about him or her. What a catalog of thought and memory.

    I’ve forgotten most insults & humiliations except for those I perpetrated, which fill me with a baleful light, like an all-night laundromat.

    I love that!

  3. marja-leena – You’re right – I probably couldn’t have written this if I weren’t somewhat sleep-deprived this morning. When the mind feeds on itself, this is the kind of thing it excretes.

    Peter – The “Memoir” tag is supposed to be your clue that this is, in fact, autobiographical.

    Pica – I guess that’s good. Thanks for reading so deeply.

  4. Okay, you and Dale must quit, I just came in tears from his latest and end up tearing up here too…..either I’m losing the plot or the two of you are turning out very special stuff. This is excellent, because it’s so well done but also because it’s so heartfelt; now my second favourite of yours.

  5. Wow, Dave.

    Rachel, the fingernails, the dried and shrunken fruit, the baleful light: you’ve out-done yourself.

    Applauding here, and hoping for more.

  6. jo sent me over here before she collapsed into bed…so glad to have read your piece, to witness the associations the narrator makes, from the sea to lightening, and all the metaphors and life lessons in between.

  7. Samuel L. Delaney had an erotic thing about men with dirt under their fingernails. I always remember that.

    I wish I had written / been able to write this.

    Now I’m going to read it again.

  8. “I am held here by a morass of trivial recollections”, as we all are, and the older we get the more of them there are. A Lovely poem, Dave. Deeply evocative.
    Has a little of everything, as our pre-sleep guilt trips often do. On a lighter note, I too was late in figuring out the source of heat lightening. Growing up nestled in the hills of Hannibal I’d never heard of it, but we moved flat out to much flatter Iowa when I was 4. I sat on the front porch worriedly watching the light show which my savvy neighbors assured me not coming our way. Still, from looking at the two lighting gouged trees in our present St. Louis neighborhood, I can see where one community’s light show can be another town’s terror.

  9. Thanks to all of you for stopping by. I really appreciate the comments even if I can’t always think of what to say in response, having mostly shot my wad in the post.

    Joan – Yes, it can be hard to remember that that peaceful flickering could represent all hell breaking loose fifty miles away. In the same way, fireflies lead very fraught existences in which inter-species predation of horny males by deceitful females is the norm, so I read. They mimic each others’ signals to lure the males to their doom. But it sure looks peaceful to us!

  10. Okay, you just made me snort my diet coke all over the place………(please note the diet in there, that totally changes that sentence). Shot your wad…..okay, nuff said.

  11. The black and white keys thing totally cracks me up. I’m pretty ignorant, but I take it there must be an musician’s inside joke that only the black keys hurt, and that it must have to do with to their dissonance in the day Chopin. Is that right? Is this your kind of joke?

    Nothing but ordinary catches my ear as a good title for something.

    Heat lightening is a great thing to dwell on.

    You seem to be drawn to the ocean when you’re in a certain fantastical frame of mind. It’s been a while. Reminds me of one you did years ago with a city, ice, an ocean and a bear.

  12. Nope, no inide joke that I’m aware of. That’s just me being weird.

    I don’t remember the post you’re thinking of, but you may be right about me and oceans. Thanks for the comment.

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