Thunder and A Southern Rhetoric

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Thunder and A Southern Rhetoric

by Cathy Smith Bowers
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 1: Spring 2002

". . . the land is long given up for dead and farmers have disinherited the sky . . ."


My husband calls

from his month-long trip to California

still nursing the anger

he left me holding like a small child

in the dwindling window of the airport


and hears from my side of the continent

the crack of thunder.

And yes, yes

that is what he misses most

about South Carolina.


Not the dust rising

in red puffs above the corn.

Not the lakes of carp and catfish

turning deep

in their tentative dreams of flight.


But the way

when the land is long given up for dead

and farmers have disinherited the sky

for good this time

it breaks sudden and big as forgiveness.


They don’t have that here, he says

as if he were speaking

of grits or Dixie beer

or a woman

who would stand in a storm

holding the receiver to the sky.


A Southern Rhetoric

“It’s a sight in this world

the things in this world

there are to see,” my mother says

as she hurries between the stove

and Sunday table. She is just back

from vacation. Happy.

Talking mountains. Talking rivers.

Big cedars and tidal bores.

When I tease her for redundancy,

her face glows like a sturgeon moon

risen above fat buttery atolls

of biscuits, steaming promontory

of roast. She shakes her finger

in my face and scolds me good:

“Girl, don’t you forget who it was

learned you to talk.”


Amazing she would want

to lay claim to these syllables

piling up like railroad salvage

when I speak, to these words slow as hooves

dredging from the wet of just-plowed fields.

I watch her turn, embarrassed, to the sink,

to the pots and pans she will scrub

to a gleam so bright we can see ourselves

as if the two of us stared back

from the lost rhetoric of memory.

From the little house, the crib

where she bent each day, naming

for me the world where words always fail,

warranting, now and then,

those few extra syllables,

some things spoken twice.