Friday, May 26, 2017

Sonic Boom

I lie on my back in Monsieur Alcide’s pasture. A wispy breeze rustles the grass around me. Butch, my Catahoula dog, sleeps next to me, his legs twitching in sleep. A group of dragonflies swarm about six feet above me, the sun glistening through their diaphanous wings. In the distance, I watch my daddy sitting ramrod-straight on his International Harvester chugging their way up a row of young cotton plants, a thick cloud of dust trailing behind them like smoke. When he gets to the far end of the field, he and the tractor become one, a red slash against the horizon. In the house, my mother stands before the stove and cooks lunch. When she is done, she will hang a white rag on the back door, and my father will come in, the tractor in high gear, bouncing him up and down in the seat.
The sky is clear, a brittle azure blue that seems eternal. I feel that if I gaze at it long and hard enough, I will see heaven. I stare so hard that my eyes ache. I think that heaven might just be blue and God might be the white of the clouds. However, there are no clouds in the sky, and I think that God is taking the day off, reclining in his heaven and gazing down at the greenness of earth. I remove the blade of grass I had been chewing from my mouth and smile up at him just in case. I do not want to offend God. My mother told me once that God knew all and saw all. “Notre Dieu,” she said in that solemn voice she adopted whenever she talked about God or Jesus. “Il sais tout et voit tout.” My father, who is part Native American, part Irish and all Cajun told me that God’s spirit was in everything.
A passenger plane inches its way across the sky, smoke trailing behind it in a thin stream that expands and disappears the further it travels. I imagine what it might be like to be in that plane sitting in a comfortable seat, drinking a Coca Cola, and eating ice cream. I wonder if God is on the plane.
A mosquito hawk glides on the updrafts, his sharp eyes focused on the green world below him. Like God, I think. Suddenly, he folds his wings, and dives downward, the wind shrieking around his aerodynamic body. When he opens them again, he shoots back up to continue scrutinizing the world below for insects. I try to imagine what it would feel like to have wings—to feel the rush of air as I dive downward and shoot back up at the last moment before striking the earth. I try to imagine, but I cannot. The nearest I can come to it is running down the dirt lane that leads to our house, the wind blowing my hair back, my legs pumping, my heart racing, my chest heaving, my mind whirling with the strength I feel in me. It is close, but I am still earthbound—always one foot on the ground.
My mother hangs out the white rag calling my father in for lunch. His back is to the house, and he will not see it until he comes up another row.
I hear the plane before I see it. It is coming from the direction of the field my father works, and is flying much lower than the passenger plane. It emits a low growl that grows louder as it nears me. When it is directly over me, the air explodes, so loud that I can feel it, as thunder will sometimes rumble inside of me during storms. A white halo encircles the plane just behind the wings, and I think that’s God’s plane. I place my hands over my ears and watch it disappear just as quickly as it appeared leaving behind the roar of the engine and the booming echoes of the explosion. Butch jumps up and runs home. The dragonflies disappear, as does the mosquito hawk. My father stops the tractor, stands up, and surveys the sky. My mother sticks her head out of the back door and does likewise. God is angry, I think, and look up, expecting the azure sky to break apart sending down blue shards like rain from the heavens, leaving behind it a sky so black that it is impossible to pierce, and I wonder what we have done to anger God.

_____

As a young boy, I heard my first sonic boom while sitting in my father's cotton field, much like this character, and it frightened me to death. I remember thinking that it sounded like thunder in a cloudless sky and being confused at the unnaturalness of the experience. The thought occurred to me then, that it might be an act of God. Several years went by before I learned about the science behind it, and I was both awed by the information and disappointed.  

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