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She-Rain: A Story of Hope Excerpt from She-Rain: A Story of Hope

by George Michael Cogdill


God's coat landed softer than leaves falling to a pond.

Along about sunset on the sixth day, there in my Granny's imagination of holy creation.

''Along about rockin' chair twilight, I reckon." She always spoke of it through a little half-smile. "Good Lord coulda just caught a whiff off heaven's cornbread and dropped His big work coat right here. Let it pile up into mountains so fine they wet my eyes. Narry thing says it didn't happen that way. I reckon there's no sin dreamin' how God might've done it. Set your mind on a right pretty place. It'll soften down the hardest time."

Granny's mind loved to wander in such three-cent theology, off to that million-dollar view. To her the rise and fall of North Carolina mountain blue might have been creation's Almighty accident. The lost coat of God. Truth is I believed that as much as I did her other stories: Talk of Indians eating yellow jackets or folks hearing death warnings spoken out loud on the wind.

I never gave her an argument about it until a summer night -- having slipped off from the commotion at home again -- lying in a lantern glow, watching her bare feet sway Pap's rocking chair against their porch. The rest of the house dark with sleep.

''Ain't it some no-account God, lets a work coat flop up in a big, cloud-high pile?" I little more than whispered it, glancing off to the fireflies speckling the dark. "You know what Pap says. Says religion that ain't in the Bible ain't nothin' but a big pile of stable bottom. Says days the church needs a good muckin' out worse than both his barns. I sure do believe me some of that."

Granny huffed a laugh and nudged a foot to my head where I reclined on that porch. I turned to see her wave a hand as if Pap's ideas were gnats to swat.

"Aww pee on him. He don't know ever'thing. His own grandmama believed Indians and Israelites was pert near the same folk, but that don't make it so. He chaps my flour-white fanny sometimes." Frustration and adoration ran together on the words.

The same hand that swatted the thought of him patted the fray-edged little Bible in her lap. It seemed as much a part of my Granny as her fingernails. She spoke with surety, as if the dark itself might nod an, "Amen."

"Frankie, the word of God's like a deepwater pond. There's a lot more to it than what you see. Same with these mountains. Green as a frog in the spring. Hell-fire red come October. Drab as stove ash by Christmas. But climb up high and look at 'em. Off a ways. They're always that holy blue. Blue as dungaree britches. Pert near all the fine blues in this world. That ain't a thing but God's own doin', Frankie. Just like you, sweet boy. And just like the good parts of your daddy. We'll see his soul as the good Lord does one day. Good Lord'll see to it, don't you worry. Your mama's more than woman enough to stand him down. Good Lord's on her side and yours."

In her own soft way, she preached herself into a near doze. Nodding away under the low summer choir of crickets and frogs off in the woods. I lay still at her feet, letting her gospel on mountains and things of the Almighty sift through my own thoughts. Wondering why heaven cursed her daughter to give me birth in the four-room timber cabin that seemed my jailhouse, a short walk through a tobacco field and a low ridge away. Why Ma's eyes looked forever ripe for a storm that never would quite come. Whether any good God knew the way to a piece of North Carolina so deep in hollows and scarps my father thought it "two axe handles and a slingshot north of hell."

Through the dark, there soon dawned to me what seemed the most worthy idea of my life. There on my grandparents' farmhouse porch, with the moths pinging at that dim lantern, I chose for myself the title of bastard. Let the idea of bastardom soak into me, as indigo takes to cotton, easing me into the choice not to have a father anymore. I vowed to think of him only as Frank from then on, the notion of the blood we shared just a stain to live with and hide. Surely, no one could blame me. Even Granny, so kind she would cry for days over a hurt dog, had long ago said he changed like "a storm-beat butterfly working backwards into a worm."

In a few minutes she half-roused and ushered me to set off for home. She kissed my forehead and crept away toward Pap in their bed, in quiet care not to wake the rest of the house. I soon swung the lantern's amber light over the path that was often my shortcut escape. Through the warm dark and the cinnamon ferns, I let Granny's thinking take some finer form in my own.

"God Almighty made this ground, He sure enough did," I thought. "Dropped His coat and just left it to rot. Not carin' much to touch it again. Not carin' who might smother in it."

Walking the stand of woods dividing our farms, I drew up the idea that I might worship a piece of that ground. Any red clay used to form the walls of my blood-daddy's grave might turn holy in my view. Holy blue-mountain ground, with its shovel-dug hole, red and black as hell. A fine little patch to plow the man under.

Quiet as a barn cat, I slipped with that thought back through the moonlit open window to my straw-tick bed. Stripped and lay there, longing for the smell of coffin flowers and fresh-turned dirt. The feel of an axe splitting a man. A touch of fingertip to the chiseling of his name in stone. All of it cleaving to my mind the way a hot day takes to the churchyard tomb rocks just up the road. It seemed a fine bedtime companion, the idea of no daddy, ever before or behind me. The thought quieted the echo of how he had rattled the nails of the house that night in another opium fit at my mother. I regretted it, but a moment of hating her passed over me. A wondering how she could share a bed with him now not twenty steps away.

Then I hated myself for being the child who bound them, and one still too small to leave. I was hardly ten-years-old, shorter than the stakes on Granny's grapevines, still climbing trees and awing at the stars. Drifting toward some taut sleep, I thought myself no more than a fleck of human dust settled on her blue mountain dream. Sightless of any through trail beyond it. As blind to her God as her God seemed to me.

Down near slumber came a final rummaging for some boyhood solace. Granny always warned not to sleep without finding a sweetening for my dreams, and the choice fell again to a girl -- a distant neighbor, of times much harder than mine. She, as ragged and beautiful as Granny's God-coat. It might as well have been a bed of crushed laurel blossoms, where my mind brought itself to rest in thoughts of her. Hoping I might dream of her. A dream light enough to crest mountains where they reached clouds. Carry a girl and a boy way out beyond the cold of hollows and family gore. Lying amid those wishes, drifting off in the thought of her, no such dream would fully come.

I know it makes as much sense to question why the heavens let any child go hungry, or lonesome. But these years from that night, I can still wonder: Is it not some divine cruelty, fogging us off from any sight of the beauty that might await us in this life? Why must children, hearts new to this world, live in a blind? Not even a snatch of view at the good that can come of them. I suppose, perhaps, it's to sugar us with surprise when we land upon a life not even a child's heart could dream.

I have long since managed to catch a ride to the living of such a beautiful life. Lifted to it by the hands of tender souls, each as stout as sun drawing water, who've carried me far off from the crests of Granny's daydream creation. Even my Granny's imagination, in all its extravagance, might strain to believe her grandson's present view and place in the world. This station of my life, from where I write to you now, would make her mighty proud.

My best times lie behind me, though in portions they will bloom again as you and I trace that path that brought me here. Our passage is bound to stretch your power of belief, perhaps your faith as you have known it, as much as parts of this story will drench my face in the breakage of heart. Along its course, some unholy ghosts hold secrets you may think unseemly to tell. But I must, as a calling, for I am reminded that hard times can merely floor cathedrals in the human heart. I am called to let you know who taught me this.

Oscar Wilde, who might wilt like a rose in whiskey above these pages to come, posed a question that ought to shadow each word as I write it. He asked, "Who, being loved, is poor?" The just-discovered letters spread before me now -- each an unforeseen stream of the rarest grace -- prove I am a man of the most uncommon riches. An old man now, fresh from the hardest of goodbyes, about to speak of unthinkable things so long hidden. Yet I find myself again at the dawn of sweet young times. Even as I mourn, longing for the mere brush of the hand I've just had to let go, my inner boy thrives. Braced by women, whose letters attest that I am surely among the most well-loved men in the world. Such a love I can never deserve.

Reader, I must caution, we will make our way through some black swale, yet with bearings set for lush ground. An Eden, where hearts see their wreckage mended. Where they are forgiven for feeling too much for one lifetime. We are bound for a graceful view of what is possible in a human life. A firmament of living lights this tobacco field boy scarcely believed he would see.

But you will catch the final vista without me. By the end of this tale's telling, I'll be gone, leaving the last memory to a fine woman's hand. I trust she will see you on to the beauty I have promised. A shore, brimming with good.

You will judge it for yourself. Weigh what all this reveals in you. Far from where we now begin -- just a scattering of days after that night on Granny's porch.

A summer afternoon that still haunts this boy, long ago shaken from the coat of her God.

The above is an excerpt from the book She-Rain: A Story of Hope by Michael Cogdill. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2010 Michael Cogdill, author of She-Rain: A Story of Hope