From the Sky to the Ground

From the Sky to the Ground

Devon Marsh

I

A man knelt in a dry field.
He accused a handful of dirt.
The soil argued little.

Brittle clods dissolved
into fine dust. The man
stood, brushed his hands,

stared at the bright field.
Parallel rows converged
toward a line of trees.

Its far edge shimmered.
A water tower glared
around a town’s name.

The man turned his back
on the tower, the town,
the field, the empty sky.

II

The man crossed his yard, reached his house,
stepped across his own initials and his father’s.
He climbed concrete steps to the porch.
He waited for the heat to subside.

Heat’s full tide lapped motionless limbs,
inundated the house. Doors and windows
stood open, inviting any breeze. In still rooms,
heat settled in stagnant pools.

III

Shadows crept into the void of departing light.
They met in open places, conspired,
grew strong. As heat and light ebbed,
a thermal essence remained.

Night voices grew bold. They talked
among themselves, confident, open.
Insect dialects recounted
stories of summer and drought;
of patience; the role of extremes
in the hard maintenance of averages.
The voices talked at length,
and the man on his porch
listened for mention of rain.

IV

Heat slept in stillness, motionless,
a calm sea. It stirred in the early hours
to welcome pink and orange light, a tide
drawing strength from the sun. It surged,
broke into day, swept across the land.
Heat flowed under trees, through open windows,
woke the man and his wife. When it reached
the limits of land and air, it grew deep.
The man rose. He waded into another day.

V

Mid-morning, unbearable sun. The man
closed the hood of his truck, removed his cap.
Sweat stung the corners of his eyes.
He squinted at the bright field,
rows of fading plants. Beyond,
the water tower stood resolute, but
grayer than the day before, its glare dispersed.
The man studied the scene, replaced his cap,
walked to the house for relief.

VI

The man’s wife emerged from relative darkness.
He and she faced each other across the porch.

Thought I’d do some shelling, she said.
Want to sit with me a while?

Yeah. I’ll get back to the truck
when the sun ain’t on it.

His wife placed a paper bag full of beans
beside her rocker, set a bowl and empty bag
in the seat, turned to go back inside.

How about some tea?

That would hit the spot.
He sat, hung his hat on the stile.

His wife disappeared into sounds.
The refrigerator door swept open,
popped shut.
Ice cubes cracked from trays,
clinked into glasses,
crackled when tea startled them.
A knife snapped twice on a board,
cut two pieces of lemon.
Refrigerator door again,
pitcher and lemon returned to cool refuge.

The man’s wife stepped onto the porch.
She handed him a glass, placed hers
on the table between them.
She sat and arranged her work.

The man took a long swallow,
balanced his glass on the arm of his chair.
Tea tasted good and strong, smelled crisp and bright.
Condensation ran onto the man’s fingers.

Another hot one, the woman said.

Today’s another scorcher.

Seems muggy, too. That makes it worse.

I wish the mugginess would decide to cloud up
and give us some rain.

The woman’s nimble hands shelled beans into the bowl,
discarded husks into the paper bag. Think it will?

Hard to say.
He rattled ice, took another swallow.
If it stays muggy it may come up a cloud
somewhere, this afternoon or tomorrow.
No telling.

Dull crumps
beat
a slow rhythm
as the woman
tossed aside
byproduct
of her work.

The man rocked to the cadence,
stared past the yard.
Staccato lines of stunted plants
ran to a tree line. Beyond, brightness
hazed and spread up,
curved back, the sky
a claustrophobic dome.

The woman appraised his face, tried
to think of what to say.
She shelled butterbeans from their pods,
pale green moons falling in soft beats
into the bowl in her lap.

I believe we might get a shower.

I don’t know, he said. I just don’t know.

VII

Breath, and music.
His wife respiring
and the song of nocturnal insects
pulled the man awake.

He lay without a sheet,
thought of his wife
and himself
exposed, dependent
on the night for comfort,
on the day for light,
the season for a crop.

Dependence stood in the room
haunting the night.
The man felt helpless
lying in the dark.

Light sweat draped his skin
like a caul. A caprice of night air
passed through the room.
Despite the heat, the man shivered.

He pulled up the sheet
to protect himself and his wife.
A fuller breeze followed,
inflating sheer curtains like sails.

The man drifted to join his wife.

VIII

The man rose before the sun.
He ate a hard biscuit, drank buttermilk.
He walked onto the porch,
out the screen door, down
the steps to the yard.
He approached his truck.
He set about tending a dying farm.

Heat washed over the land.
The ground grew hot, the air
stifled all impulse. By mid-morning
the man retired to his porch.

He sat as on the previous day
and the day before, and
he watched the trees shine
defiant green. Such still air.

Cicadas buzzed in one tree
and then another, singly,
not in the chorus of the night.
The man watched, listened. He heard
everything telling him to wait.

Drone of insects
caused the man to nod. Sleep.
He sat waking and dozing
into early afternoon.
His wife came to call him to lunch
but decided not to disturb him.
Instead she took a seat.

She looked at her husband, his head
bent forward as if listening to someone
pray. Then she looked across
the road at the field and the sky above.
She rested her tired eyes on a cloud.

The woman watched the cloud.
She prayed it would come their way
or pass before her husband woke.

A shadow drifted across the far trees
onto the field. It crossed the road
to meet tree shadows in the yard.
Silent lap of shadow on shadow
startled the insects, stopping their songs.
In the sudden quiet the man awoke,
puzzled at the silence and the field
that no longer blared midday glare.
He stared at the mounting cloud,
then looked to his wife. She smiled.

Looks like we might get some rain.

The man beheld a cumulus dreadnaught
floating in a deep new sky. Darkness
touched its hull down low. Brilliance
thrust upward, white billows piled on billows.
Air carried the cloud slowly, as if
it had the density of granite.
The mass and its shadow drifted
above the man’s field and his house.
From across the road, he received
the report of countless impacts.

IX

The man opened his door
to meet the rain
as it came into his yard.

His wife watched him reach
toward the first few drops.
They hesitated, assented, fell harder.

The man crossed the yard and road
to step into his field. Power and majesty
spoke in monosyllable raindrops
that blurred into words and into
a single word that meant possibility.

He said, “Lord, I’m
standing on a fine line.”
The din increased.
The cloud gave forth
a downpour.
Water washed anxiety
from the grateful man.
The ground darkened.

X

The man cried from the sky
to the ground, tears like rain.

Devon Marsh

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