As a boy, I lived a spell in East Texas. Somewhere on the edge of the urban sprawl, my sister and I ran barefooted down dirt roads, sat under the shade of mesquite groves, and tromped through fields of briars to the neighbor-lady’s house with all the aquariums. We were home on the range and my parents let us roam free, at least mostly free.
There was a standing rule in the Haines family: don’t be caught out in an East Texas lightning storm.
The rule was the direct outgrowth of some urban legend involving an old man from Sherman, Texas, I think. He’d been struck by lightning something close to a half-dozen times, so much, in fact, that he’d become some kind of human lightning rod. It was said that he described the moments before a lightning strike with electrifying detail: static charged hair stands on end, metal zippers begin to crackle, and the smell of ozone becomes so intense that it’s near euphoric.
This story had never been independently verified — at six I was without scoop-worthy fact-checking sources. Nonetheless, my sister and I ran like wild animals at the first signs of storm. The piling up of clouds, the smell of splitting ions, the low rumble in the far-off country — those rumors sent us tearing for the house where our parents would be waiting on the back porch. Sometimes we’d all sit together and watch the storm build to a crescendo, the wall of rain advancing from the west, lightning tendrils touching nearby fields.
As children, we were carefully trained to recognize the conditions for a coming storm. Sometimes I wish I had the same keen ability to recognize when conditions were just right for a good brainstorm.
“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment, ” Henri Cartier-Bresson would publish in his 1952 book of images. Of photography, he would say that the art was “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
Bresson captures this thought in one of his most famous images. A man is caught in mid-leap over a rain puddle and, having made a gross miscalculation, will momentarily be the owner of one pair of soggy trousers. The decisive moment: the leap. The inevitable outcome: a trip to the laundry.
Bresson was a master at capturing the decisive moment. Perhaps that’s why his work is still revered today.
Recognizing creatively decisive moments is more difficult than recognizing a coming thunderstorm. How often do I feel words rising, view a moving piece of art, see a stunning act of kindness at the farmer’s market, and fail to record its beauty (either with my pen or my mind’s eye)? How often do I miss the prompts that are happening all around me?
It is the artist’s job to make the most of these personal decisive moments. And if we do, perhaps we can be the ones who capture lightning in a bottle.
Tweetspeak’s August Rain Project.
Would you like to join with us in capturing your own decisive moment this week? This month’s found poem theme at Tweetspeak is Rain, and we’re using book spines as the prompt. In fact, today’s post was inspired by the book spine of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood (along with my love for Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography). We’d love you to join with is. How do you participate?
1. This month, we will take our cues from book spines (see Glynn’s piece for more information). Look through your personal collection, the aisles at your local bookstore, or your neighbor’s bookcase and grab a few titles.
2. Arrange a poem completely from words on book spines, or use pieces of the titles to create your own found poem. Make sure your poems touch on themes of rain OR water.
3. Tweet your poems (and pictures of the book spines) to us. Add a #tsrain hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
4. If you aren’t a twitter user, leave your found poem here in the comment box (we’ll use our mind’s eye to imagine your book spines).
5. Each week we’ll share a few of the poems. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the winner to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
Last week we received some great rain themed book spine poetry.
In “Salt Water Amnesia” Maureen Doallas plays with epic imagery and water themes. She writes:
A thousand vessels
jam the city in which I love you.
I have tasted the apple.
the captain lands in paradise
where currents meet.
In “The World As I See It” Casee deals with issues of faith and humanity. She writes:
Us, gypsies, wanderers of the world.
The sacred origins of profound things,
the things they carried, forgotten.
Magical beginnings, enchanted lives, separated.
Seeking Utopia with the praise of folly.
We exchange the living bible for fun with hand shadows.
Like water for chocolate, the God of small things
dispatches, from the war room, letters from the earth.
Adventures in gentle discipline for an ageless body, timeless mind.
For us, the birth of tragedy.
Living on earth, the weeping woman, must learn
the art of racing in the rain, struggling to touch the earth.
Religions of the world, searching for God knows what,
desire to be the know it all.
The paradox of plenty, the death of common sense.
The Alchemist, the reminding salt,
Crossing the water, piece by piece,
Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope.
You already know what to do.
Eat, pray, love.
Thanks to everyone who submitted their own piece of book spine poetry last week. Now, go create a new work and come back here to rain it on us!