Landscapes and Omens


I’ve heard how creatures common as swallows
feel floods coming, hail and cyclones,
how dogs howl hours before roofbeams buckle
and glasses rattle from shelves,
how farm town prophets watch not for comets
or planets aligning, but study instead
columns of ants climbing like cypress,
blackbirds, like scattered smoke, lifting from wheat,
and fish dimpling the still surface of ponds: they say
such is the honeybee’s knowledge as barometers drop
and continents grind miles beneath our feet—
truer than rheumatism, hip pins, or steel plates aching
when the future funnels down from clouds.


Take my uncle, for instance,
who often swore he saw harbingers,
told me that even as gulf winds
helix into hurricane, brood mares kick
and cows give milk bitter as jimson weed.
Many Sundays I heard aunts and grandparents
tell of storm birds whirling inland,
cicadas gone quiet, their clamor in the trees
fallen to chapeled silence.

These were the women who scalded jars
and set the jam pots boiling,
cast their predictions
as spoons glistened, crystalling with sugar.
Their husbands, likewise,
knew what signs to watch—yearly signals
more certain to them than tillage,
than incense of burnt cane
hazing acres before the reaping.


But no one’s left in my family
to speak each season’s dialect, the language
my uncles once culled from fields—
gossip of cotton rows withered,
breezes parched enough to scour the silos
and creekbeds dried to cobble.

And no one’s left to believe
the landscape’s revelations, those prophecies
of bough and birdwing,
though I still recall the voices
filling my grandparents’ kitchen,
filling it with talk of harvests and warning,
tin roofs torn to razor
and whole barns blown heavenward.


What’s to be done
once our future funnels down
and the divinations
of ants and honeybees
prove useless—
once blackbirds fail to rise
like hieroglyphs,
no grammar of wingspan
wheeling upward into omens?

Such obvious logic
defies all warning: how time
spirals everything away,
tears plank from girder,
topples the house
where psalms and recipes
papered my grandmother’s pantry.

Or maybe loss itself
redeems the details—
those Sabbath afternoons
I spent listening to kitchen talk—
as if winds could burnish
the trivia of years,
myths of weather and weeping statues,
could whip the flame-ripened fields
until the bright spires
quicken toward harvest.


Kevin Meaux
from his book Myths of Electricity
Texas Review Press, 2005

Used with permission of the poet.

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