Seasonal Art of the Thunderstorm | Michael Bettencourt - Scene4 Magazine | Special Issue - July/August 2015

Michael Bettencourt

I've never been in a hurricane or a tsunami or a typhoon or a tornado, nothing so violent and grand as that.  Thunderstorms are the closest I've been to the unrestraint of nature, but it was a safe seat for the most part.


One night in late June 2015 (actually it was 2 AM) I heard the unmistakable grumblings of thunder.  I got up and went outside.  No one else was up that I could see, except for the occasional car.  The air was still, yet not dead, not dead like the humid corpse that had lain across our nostrils all day.  More tensile, like the diaphragm of an ear.  Haze hung in the air, not-quite fog, a scrim; shadows from the streetlights fuzzed off into darkness instead of being sharply etched areas. The sulfur glow of the mercury lamps, the tenseness in the air, the dim uncertainty made the air thick yet vibrant.


The sky to the east was smooth onyx, with a gravity all its own, as if by its mass and grandness it would pull everything into itself, destroying and erasing.


The thunder was still far off, the lightning diffuse.  The evening before we drove home from a long day trip into the embrace of a thunderstorm.  As we sped down the highway, imperceptibly inching forward in the darkness, we watched the dendritic rips of the lightning in the clouds. At one moment there was unmarked blackness, thunderhead on thunderhead piling up for 40,000 feet.  Then in a time quicker than it takes to say "Look at that!" a savage rend in the darkness, a coronal glow surrounding the sharp rational conclusion of a lightning stroke as it tied earth to sky with electric blood.  Then darkness again.  We watched this for fifty miles, watching a nature thoroughly indifferent to our watching.


Now, standing just outside the safety of the door, the wind full of the tang of ozone, I watched the storm gather to its omega point.  The leaves, like a chorus, susurrated.  The branches swung in idle semaphore; the electric wires and telephone lines whined in aeolian dissonance.  Thunder followed on lightning overlapping.  And then the storm, spreading its vast wings like Mahler, took possession.


And then the rain.  The rain of a thunderstorm has an urgency no other rain has.  Driven, jousting, it erases as it also scores, erases by etching, changing the complexion of its winnowing floor, washing chaff and wheat indiscriminately into the grave. 


Standing, letting the water stream down my face and body, pierced by its sudden unsummery coldness, my body drinking down the clarity of its single-mindedness like corn anxious to grow in the night, I suddenly, for a moment, meld into this storm.  I become nothing more than rain or wind or the sullen darkness unraveled by the lightning's logic.  I am a conduit for this storm's energy, a storm rod conducting a lost vitality to withered roots and socialized deadness.  For a moment my mind no longer is an inquisitive burrowing animal; for a moment my helplessness in the face of death is denied; for a moment I am placed and succulent; for a moment I am what poetry cannot describe.


And then I feel the chill of wet clothes: practicality catapults me out of what I had been drawn into it.  What I would wish permanently, what peace I would want without the strain of work or ignorance, is suddenly denied me by the passing of time, by nerves reacting to cold, by a thousand mundane details that again take up their stations after having been, momentarily, forced to resign the field.


But for a moment.  Such peace is rare - there is a certain forgetting we must learn to do to achieve it. It is not an easy forgetting because it means erasing the self we have been taught to construct, that house of cards we call our ego.  It means risking quietness, suing for peace, letting go in order to hold on even more strongly.  The truths of life are usually contradictory, two dictions speaking against each other, each equally right, each equally incompatible with the other.  (I am a Pisces, after all.)  Peace comes with the unity of the contradictions, with seeing the unity that binds the separateness yet does not violate the separateness and keeps each thing distinct and integral.  For a moment I was a creature unified, and it is a moment that keeps me looking at the horizon, waiting for the dark grey annunciation of another storm.

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Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt |

Michael Bettencourt is a playwright and essayist.
He also writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
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