Things that Fall from the Sky
Take one early evening. A father calls
His wife and children outside to witness
The eastern sky going bloody with clouds.
“What?” they say, transfixed, “What?” staring skyward
Until the rain swarms like sand, a brief storm
Of seeds that spreads them apart, their eyes closed
Under this brief anomaly of hail.
The afterlight is so yellow it seems
To have traveled here from a jaundiced star.
Before he can speak, the father must kneel
To examine that rain, his wonder turned
Watery, doubt taking his fingertips
Over their pinpricked skin to read the Braille
Of what might be born from a vocal rain.
A name for the first day of invasion
Wells up in him, a long vowel that leaves
Its breath on their faces. When they watch him
Like babies, that man smiles the first falsehood
Of devotion, afraid they already
Believe so much in these seeds, they’ll swallow,
Certain that superstition will feed them.
In 1969, in South Carolina, nondairy creamer from
the new Borden plant began to fall on a small town.
The day became white and sweet
Like the air above a rolling pin
As a woman thins the dough
For chip-filled cookies. Children stood
Beside their mothers, their hands
Clutching toys they would not part with.
The weather cut the neighborhood
Into the shapes of families.
The cloud was soluble on tongues.
It surrounded each face like sound.
Already there were footprints
On sidewalks, a dream of shovels.
Those dusted by light took vows.
Suddenly, declarations of love,
The streets become hospitals.
Time was ending. A memory
Of old prophecies collected
In the eyes of everyone.
At last, the company’s reassurance,
Though later, when the whitened bathed,
They stroked the film that had formed
Along their cheeks, their fingertips
Dizzy with the wonder of children
Touching the rouged faces of the dead.
In 1973 a set of papers that explained, with graphs and
formulas, “normalized extinction” and the Davis-Greenstein
mechanism of astrophysics fell from a distance higher
than a 300-foot radio transmission tower.
When the paper fell from the sky, it looked
As if a briefcase had opened, a latch
Sprung loose among the clouds, spilling a set
Of documents, nothing in that story
To rush cameras right over, not when
There’d been a robbery and a fire, not when
The news desk smelled the late-night stink of hoax.
But there was the detail of the tower,
How its height was cited, and documents
Aren’t a rock format prank. Moreover,
This caller worked in radio, a sort
Of cousin to humor when he described
Formulas and graphs, suggesting a plot
Filled with spies or scientists dangerous
With political or religious hate.
A few lines then. A small item below
An ad for dishwashers, television
Showing that gutted house and empty safe
As if its news were in summer reruns.
But after, when no one claimed those papers,
Chosen repeated itself like amen
As the last word of that witness’s thoughts.
Prophecy, now, was physics, difficult
As a burning bush or exploding star.
And didn’t “normalized extinction” sound
Like a careless spin on nuclear war?
He remembered the meteor legend,
How it explained the end of dinosaurs,
All things large starving in the dusty years
Of toxic darkness. Scholarship set in
Like the deep winter of apprehension.
Each night, before looking up, he wished for
The empty sky of the ordinary.
After meat fell from the sky,
After that shower ended
Like a cold tap twisted shut,
There were men who sampled it,
Cautiously chewing like kings.
Like mutton, one said, relieved,
Or venison, second choice,
Someone suggesting vultures
Had vomited together
From overhead; somebody,
At last, saying they were scraps
From God’s table, calling up
The old words for mystery
That caught in the throat like bones.
The men who had eaten coughed
While wishes circulated
Like secrets pledged to silence.
For days, children examined
Their fathers for fur and claws.
Old wives were as tentative as
The child brides they had been, deep
In the nineteenth century
Was a bright, beautiful fact.
So it is with the strange.
A choir of analysts
Performed the old cantata
Of certainties until meat
Was people who had been ripped
To pieces by the sharp scythe
Of tornado, their parts swirled
Upward and returned as rain.
A family was missing.
Parables were passed through yards
Until streets of disciples
Formed a holy neighborhood.
A chattering of voices
Settled on porches, the words
So much the same they sounded
Like clouds of starlings rising.
Begin with the one that famously
Landed on a San Diego car,
Dropping from a midair accident
Like a fantastically narrow storm.
Nothing can come from such plummeting
But disaster or the miracle
That needs snow drifts and touch downs precise
As ones that land softly on Mars, yet
The melodrama transfixes us
The way children, once, at matinees,
Were caught by serial cliffhangers
And spent a week believing rescue
As impossible as growing old.
That driver and her child were unharmed,
But afterward, she had a habit
Of glancing up like a forecaster,
Though it’s rare, anyone looking up
For the descent of bodies, rarer
To believe they’re falling from a cloud.
It takes the height that turns us breathless,
A thousand feet or more to make us
Think “sky” like one morning when distance
Throttled our breath while suited bodies
Plunged like drops of a passing shower
That pockmark the dust of current drought.
And I, for once, agreed on something
With my sad, conservative neighbors,
Desiring a sect of people dead,
Their lives snuffed by gene anomaly.
The body of Christ, the blood of Christ—
The chorus of communion became
The password into our side for war.
It drummed in the inner ear like pulse,
And I dreamed myself marching to plant
The first flag of a lifetime, tending
It each morning as if cloth might die
And declare me criminal and cruel
In the common carelessness of peace.