In Drought Time attempts to capture a way of life that is in flux and perhaps soon to be lost forever. Nationally known painters and writers contribute to a unique portrait of people and place not often addressed in literary anthologies.
Spring Thaw, Teresa Freed
Selected work from In Drought Time
In the spring, the air is upside down.
Lima bean clouds slump over hungry trees,
and hard rains fall like bullets on a martyr.
Following a doe into the marsh
a middle-aged man trips over a root,
rolls down into the creek,
hears the low snore of frogs.
Faithless frost lingers in the numb ground,
as valleys choke on the river’s bile.
He thinks he cannot bear to live
on this land through another summer.
Here, where gravity is a ruthless overseer
hiding in a thick fog. Hail and fallow skies,
soy bean bushes grim as barbed wire
for as far as the eye can see.
Driving the family to church,
the car hits a cat who disappears
under the wheels into the weeds.
Maybe it won’t die, someone whispers.
Sprinting through the sanctuary doors,
his children kneel between two pews,
draw pictures of castles and dragons,
don’t stand for the doxology,
wonder why their father never
puts money in the collection plate.
His wife listens for the punch-line
in the pastor’s sermon.
First notes of a familiar hymn
lazily ascend from organ pipes
mounted on the wall under the cross.
Every believer rises.
The noise the congregation makes
is earnest but not quite pious.
He has to step away from her
when she is singing.
Missionaries On The Porch
Despite the cruel lullaby of an endless
drizzle on the roof, barely adrift
in a shallow dream, the door bell rings.
Children gallop to the door. Under their
heavy feet floors creak like old bones
breaking, walls and hallways tremble.
I crawl to the window and pull
my numb body up over the sill.
Missionaries are standing on the porch.
The shine off the two young men dressed
in black pants and starched white shirts
stirs up the rotten chunk of potato eaten
for lunch, spawns visions of my brother
the hunchback spying from high atop
a famous Parisian cathedral.
Over the long whine of the door opening
I hear my daughter invite the evangelists in.
“Dad, there’s someone here to see you.”
So much for fatherly advice about never
talking to strangers. Have they not heard
the thunder, these Christian Soldiers
loitering on the landing? Can the two
be so enchanted they don’t feel the rain
on their cheeks, and the rest of us cursed
with a nervous tick after bullied
so long under a ruthless downpour?
I pull on my shorts, slip on a T-shirt and
stumble down the stairs in my bare feet.
“Can I help you?”
“We’d like to help you brother, achieve
a personal relationship with your Lord.”
I tell them thanks, but I’ve been breaking ice
in the marsh all spring preparing the water for
cranes to nest among the fallen twisted cattail,
and that’s as close to meeting God as I’m
likely to get.
My stirring liturgy startles the cat on the end
table into a hasty retreat, kicking over a glass
of milk with his paws as he leaps. Instead of
being run off from boredom or disgust,
the boys sing me a hymn—
Come, thou long expected Lord,
Born to set us free, from our fears
And sins release us, let us find
Our rest in Thee!
This is why we build houses a half mile off
the road behind twenty acres of marsh and
woods, to pick tomatoes in our underwear
and stare out over green rolling hills for days
listening to frogs mate until our ears fall off
from the joy. And still they come.
“I don’t mean to be rude brothers, but after
weeks of rivers of mud shifting under
my feet a melancholy condition has soaked
into my skin. And besides, as far as I can tell,
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is upstairs
looking for stars in broad daylight (imagine)
with the binoculars I gave the kids the day
their big yellow dog came up lame and couldn’t
chase them out through the weedy alfalfa fields
Watching the righteous walk back up my long
gravel driveway under a cloudless late Spring
afternoon sky, I wonder why it matters to them
what we believe. As long as we keep our
promises, most of the time, and are there with
a warm wash rag to wipe away the vomit from
our lovers’ feverish lips, this should be enough
to get us into heaven or anywhere else with a
nice view, good neighbors and no money down.