About Us

Contact Us


2001 Archives

First Chapters
World Travel
September Issue
October Issue
November Issue
December Issue
February 02 Issue
April 02 Issue

Karel Sloan
I am an onlooker standing on a primordial mezzanine.

I recently ventured to Arkansas for the first time. Along the edges of the Buffalo River, below buffs of sand stone, the only audible sound was river itself, until an occasional airplane crossed overhead, growling a faint white trail of condensation along the belly of bare blue sky. Standing there, in the middle of the Ozarks, I could not discern the persistent rumble of car ocean on interstate that accompanies most afternoons. An unfamiliar sound caught my attention. I turned; a steady run of water down sand stone into the river. Why had it taken so long for me to recognize a waterfall? Am I so unaccustomed to quiet that I can no longer recognize sound made by things other than human beings? Had I been expecting a greater rumbling, fed by too many nature shows on television, or something more animated, like an animal? There are other beings here. Birds hop from branch to branch. Herds of elk, imported from colder climates after their slender and less hairy predecessors were hunted to extinction, roam grassy slopes. I’ve become accustomed to the crowed. I take comfort in it. Bill boards on the side of the highway advertising restaurants, radio stations, campgrounds, hotels and jewelry stores are the familiars. They are common where I come from. I almost feel lost without them. Here, bush after bush of witch hazel blooms. Here, I find my first fossils.

Their bodies have fallen away to memories, yet there is nothing old enough to remember, save the churt. Rock has not become plant and plant has not been replaced by mineral. It has dissolved and all that remains is outline. I have seen things mineralized; wood fossils in curio shops, their fibers become artifact. These fossils I collect on the edges of the Buffalo are casts. They tell of the prehistoric. Rock is an excellent record keeper.

Stones tell of many kinds of shifting. Those who know their measurement can discover much. My partner, who is with me and can read such things, tells me what was once plateau is now Ozark Mountain. Later, rolling down the roads of rural Arkansas, we pass several logging trucks carrying the husks of trees. Further down, we pass their destination, a charcoal factory. Soon bark will be reduced to charcoal brick-ets for countless weekend barbeques, or, maybe, the materials to sketch countless pictures of trees. We are returning to the land of the comfortable, a world that favors the dead. Today, there is resurrection occurring all across St. Charles Avenue. For hours, yesterday, it rained hard. After a morning of sun, the rain is back, and so are the ferns. A few have not made the transition and remain twisted and brown. Most have revived and fill the oaks with another layer of green. The sky is gray. Several clouds float low. They look as if all you’d need is a ladder to reach them. The perpetual humidity keeps the sky here close. Travel north, and the sky feels further away.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing.
And it was going to snow.
Water is always an issue everywhere you go.
Winter sky in New England can be filled with gray-white larva,
on its way to becoming snow. Or worse, ice.
Summer in New Orleans can be thick and menacing,
the sky a myriad of lavender and opal.
Both scenarios take over time. For a moment, clocks no longer matter.
It was evening all afternoon.
Sound can undergo a similar shift between the counted and the just after.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,
Wallace Stevens

I feel this way about thunder. Technically, I understand its mechanics. Raindrops rub together until there is static. Streams of static split the sky, which then literally crashes back together. A flash of light does not always bode thunder. It does bode anticipation. In the just after, I wait.
Sometimes, I count the seconds in between lightning bolts. I’ve been told that this can determine how close the storm is. The fewer seconds, the nearer by the storm. Sometimes, I hold my breath. First, there is a crack as the lightning rips the air into rough pieces, then a smashing rumble. The edge of sound is almost as good as the onset, the louder, the better.

Over the centuries, so many things have been implied, bowling balls rolling, brothers in battle, the hammer of a god, Armageddon. There may be no sound at all, just an aftermath of flash. When it does arrive, then, there is the just after of thunder. It gradually tapers. Seams stitch, until the next slice of electricity. Except for yellow forks, the sewing is as invisible as the tearing. When both fade, all that remains, a steady plunk as water plummets, the very drops that may have punctuated the rupture. I am an onlooker standing on a primordial mezzanine. Someone 8,000 years ago watched the same light show, before there was a glossary. Now, one needs a directory. Run off from many types of power plants and factories, from acres of farmland with too many animals, seeps underground. Chemicals quietly creep upward with our collective exhalations to become clouds. Invisibility now is more dangerous than when humans only had to contend with angry gods. We have made both earth and heaven mortal. Their demise is nature’s most dangerous undertaking. Rivulets roll down my hair. Droplets seep through my sweatshirt. My toes are wet.
It is late February. All afternoon, it has been evening. I have seen lightning only once. In Connecticut, there could be snow. In New Orleans, there is rain, and it is warm.

© Karel Sloan May 2002

Previously by Karel
Karel Sloane
I have no answers, I just ask questions.

email: "Karel Sloane"

Karel is a published poet and writer. Most recently
a publication put together by the Connecticut Department of
Environmental Protection and the Kellogg Nature Center
and THE FOURTH RIVER, an online publication of
Chatham College's Masters in Writing program.

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article

© Hackwriters 2002