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Joseph Bathanti was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He came to North Carolina as a VISTA (domestic Peace Corps) volunteer in 1976 to work with prison inmates and for nearly thirty years he has continued to teach in prisons, battered women’s shelters, and homeless shelters.
He has B.A. and M.A. degrees in English Literature from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. Bathanti has lectured and written extensively on prisons and the death penalty. He is the former Chair of the N.C. Writers Network Prison Project. At present he is Professor of Creative Writing, and Co-Director of the Visiting Writers Series, at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Bathanti is the author of four books of poetry, including This Metal, which was nominated for The National Book Award. His first novel, East Liberty, won the Carolina Novel Award in 2001.
Any sky can hide it. You look away for an instant. But it's not so much look as feel. Weight and no weight at once. Like it's you spinning off into the firmament, yet railroad spikes through your feet so you can't move.
Well, there was an unholy brigade of lightning and hail big as teacups. Could have killed her dead, but there she stood blithe as a fish. I braved a shattered skull. One of those iceballs caught me above the ear and opened my head like a mushmelon. And I carried her in. She was smiling and singing "Old Rugged Cross." I never quite cared for that hymn. I did not mind church singing, though your mother might tell it different.
I'm bleeding, Calvin, and your mama is chiding me about how hurt I am as I'm hefting her up the back steps. And then the hail and lightning desist and there comes this whoosh and it's like an ocean wave washed across us side-wise. Not rain-wise. Because it traveled exact parallel to the ground. Liquid wind. Not liquid and wind. Then it stops. On a dime, I mean. And the sky gets light and still, goes green, pink, green.
Then you hear it highballing like the Point South & Comfort on rocket gas and banshees. Between a whistle and a blow. So I turn, still holding your mother, her fussing at me about the cut, and there it stood. Like a hangman's knot. Looping in at one hundred and fifteen miles, though seeing it come at a distance, right across the field yonder, it looked slower.
I knew what it was, but I had never seen one so up close, so big. As it came on you could see whatever it had already come through churning in its upswell. There was it, and there was a whole world along with it. Chairs and hogs and chickens and rooftops. The field it was coming through was held in tall corn and it fell of like whiskers, the stalks going up, gravity reversed, like they were lodestones. Staring at it I could feel the pull. Your mother was saying, calm-like, "Put me down, MacGregor. I want to witness this." Felt like my face was being pulled right off. Like a mask right off my skull. It was a mighty thing you could not look away from. And your ma was always bad about such.
We got in and shut up in that walk-in cupboard under the staircase. Then. It was leaning on the house, bracing itself for its own impact. As if it knew how to get in a man's house without opening the door. Secret. Spirit. Swelling the house. In and out like a balloon it was fixed to blow in until it busted. Inside. Not outside. Like the movers were there and they didn't care what got broke. The furniture walking all over, bashing itself into walls. Glass and windows crashing. The piano playing a funeral song.
Copyright © 2006 by Joseph Bathanti