This has been an almost perfect day. A three hour slice out of the morning garnered us 8 apple trees and 3 blackberry canes; 130 mile roundtrip to Fedco, upstate, home of wondrous botanicals, plants ordered last fall and bagged for pickup. All the trees are now planted in holes dug deep and filled with rotting manure 7 months back; the worms live in this black, crumbly soil in nests, like horror flic vipers. I am exhausted. And so pleased. Green banners on slender poles busily sucking at soil I have turned.
Nothing plagues me now, bone-tired is good, not even an unscratched itch, and I am visited by memories of Morro Bay. Between awake and adream is so thin when we go all heavy and serene.
I stand in a supermarket aisle. The place is oddly, harshly bright, too much short-blue on the spectral slide - this is not sunlight; it is factory light, an indoor feedlot. Not remotely like outside; this is like the cold tile room where autopsies happen; blue light stretched out in short bursts, visible from forever, long ribbons in the eye, an unchewable taffy. I am staring into a long white case of luncheon meat cuts and cheeses, neatly wrapped and perfectly stacked. A girl stands next to me and asks, "are you not so-an-so?" I confess that I am; I look at her. Plain and brown, but still a girl and lately there have been none. She has lived in a town many hundreds of miles away where I, too, lived, and she has remembered me. Me? Unforgettable me? It is almost a dark thought. Doubt is a large bird whose wings brush my anterior lobes as I look at her. Why me? Also, I am slightly thrilled. No, I don't recall her, only the bitter aftertaste of the town. She tells me a name and an address and hopes to see me and is gone. A day, or a week - it is 40 years ago gone now and time no longer has bearing; what has the past taught me? Not much. I arrive at her door. She calls out to me to come on in. She is half up under a sink wielding a pipe wrench against a stubborn fitting. Her bare feet are flatly splayed out on the floor of the kitchen as she strains against the metal, grunting. The long dress she wears is bunched up around her hips. All I can see of her is that she wears little else and is all fuzzy and brown, a mouse-nest of woman. I have fallen into someone else's fiction and wonder who will write the story. Later, fellatio on a water bed and I think maybe I should have taken a Dramamine. It is an almost colonial sort of precept that girls learn early, that a man would rather be in their mouth than meet the curly-girl delights of swamp anatomy. I will never understand this. Later still, back out in the kitchen, wonderful sourdough waffles. I am pleased but puzzled; things like this don't really happen outside of movies. I am standing in a kitchen with my thumbs tucked into the front of my jeans, hands hanging, a languid observer of another's domesticity, and her five year old eases up and shyly kisses the back of my left hand. Absolutely frightening. When I leave I never go back there. Spilt blood is easier to take than such raw need. After half an hour's thought I finally recall her name. I will never tell. She is probably married to a dentist, a granny and secretary of the Lady's Garden Club.
Early May: Today really was a perfect day. The apple trees are skinny sentinels guarding the space of what will one day be a small cider orchard. Someone younger will pick them in their prime. We had pizza for dinner. A perfect day, and then at the end slightly odd. My odd old brain entrances me.
We planted 3 Baldwins, 1 Liberty, 1 Oxford Black, 1 Golden Grimes and 2 Golden Russet. The Baldwin was a N.E. steady years ago; good for cooking and desert and cider. It has long taken a back seat to agribiz choices that travel better - having no taste when picked and being none the worse for wear when arriving thousands of miles away. The original Black Oxford still stands not far from here, 200 years along and bearing well. Remember, all apples come from cut shoots grafted - scions, onto other rootstock. Seeds not wanted.
A month later, and I have written nothing more. The spigot got turned off. It would be writer's-block if I were a writer but at the present I am not. It's all about chemistry. Some potassium and calcium in tandem go south with the copper and the carbon, and I am a different person from the one who absolutely must touch the keys. The gods aren't in it. Nor are the stars nor crystals implanted in my long bones by Martian psycho surgeons nor the way the Hanging Man fell out of the Tarot deck while I absentmindedly shuffled. It is all chemicals. Maybe not all of them endogenous; we are no doubt attenuated, or polluted, by what we ingest but the end result is a molecular stew that makes us into different copies of ourselves at different hours of the day. Rather than being spooked by how many faces I can manage I should be pleased that I am as steady and singular as I am. The walls we bounce between as we look for new footing are just further apart some days.
Lately I have not been a writer. I don't really mind. When my inner ions line up in one way I have 200 psi of word-urge to release - or burst. Presently I am nearly a flat pool. This started weeks ago. I posted one letter in April but never told anyone. Some have written and asked if I were still kicking. I am. I play monk-with-a-trowel and the calm is almost as good as chocolate. A thin veneer of order is applied to one small spot of earth and is completely ephemeral. It is the garden.
Hello to all of you from here. Our winter was the warmest ever. Many trees and berry bushes and two hives of bees and umpteen planter boxes and seeds scattered into spring later the garden looks wonderful. It is tenuously young. Green things leap from the dirt. The weeds are, by steady application, kept at bay. The green house puts out far more food than we can consume. Ten new chicks, Hampshire Reds, arrived as day-olds , are rising up, almost 4 weeks along now and romping to scratch outdoor dirt. The Muscovy ducks arrive in a few days and will need the small pen and heat lamp. Fifty new asparagus have gone in and last year's are ferning out, sucking at the sun, storing up in their roots what we will eat in a year. Last year's new raspberry bushes absolutely roar all day long, just below my threshold of hearing but still felt. Not too much rain, not too many bugs, discouragement in abeyance I spend maybe 4 hours a day in my garden doing the little housekeeping chores that never end. The rhythm of the hoe.
I have never felt safer than I do now when I am out in the garden. My enthusiams are limited by the speed of sprouting, the laws of photosynthesis and what the weather permits. I am in charge of nothing, a cog on the wheel. Any errors I make are so naturally a part of the cycle that leads into and out of the compost heap, or our bellies, or the dark earth that I can commit no sin here however ham-handed. I can find no sin in the simple and irrevocable steps of this life. The garden is a creature. Whether I stumble or limp or completely fall down all of this goes on anyway; the creature lurches toward autumn. None of it really needs me. It simply lets me play in harmless one-on-one sport. Somedays I think I nurture, and others I run afoul of all the things I don't know and cannot do. I like that about these natural processes: the forgiveness. Success here is that I enjoy what I do and stay off the compost heap another day. When I stick my fork deep into the compost heap, turn it and see the steam roil out I think maybe I have come close to glimpsing the wonder of the hereafter.
Today was our 22nd wedding anniversary. It was stained with tears, but then everyday is lately. Waldo will need to be put down soon. His rear left leg is withering and simply flops. He falls down, eats sporadically, appears to have seizures; I think he is despondent. Hard to say; we anthropomorphise so easily, make such wild assumptions about what animals feel or think. There does not seem to be any pain involved in this process; it is a demylinization, a genetic disorder, that simply marches from back to front rendering motor nerves defunct. Without nerve impulses the muscles atrophy. He has lost his former indepence and sleeps with us every night and calls for us to help him around the house. Most days he spends in the yard with the chickens about and me in and out. Pat spends a lot of time with him. Zoe has been here lately and stays with him a lot, too.
One A.M. and I am thinking about writing; this is not good. I have been in bed curled with Waldo. It is now Wednesday and he is still here; his appointment with the needle was for 1300 yesterday afternoon, but he had a particularly good day on Monday and has been moved forward. The waiting is almost harder than living. Forty-eight hours ago I was out on the lawn with him, walking while the boxer-bladder decided to function, or not, and I was thinking '36 hours' and crying. He has been a good companion and will be missed. His ninth birthday is not long past. Waiting has a weight to it so that it becomes even heavier than existence and bears you both forward and down together. I hate waiting and it has caused me to do wrong things. What craziness won't we do to escape it?
Writing is not about giving. It takes. Writing is not magic, it is need. Endless demands are made that dry the marrow; the result is a phrase, like a sausage wrapped in sweet bread and smelling like heaven, begging to be bitten in to.
Sand in the pipes has worn the gasket thin, all the grinding of on-and-off again, a brain that stutters, and now the spigot leaks again, words leak, and I write. I am a frotteur rubbing my words against available brains, a thrillseeker. I have nothing to say; I simply leak. Like a urethral parasite gathered in the river, on the way to the heart, extinction's herald - my own, no doubt. You are in no danger. You can laugh at me and wonder at my incredulous bullshit. Marvel at the rampantly inappropriate metaphors.
To be the monk with the trowel is best of all. To never write. Need is always a desperate enterprise. I feel like a large pipe, end to end, and what passes thru is not at all my own; it is life's carotid where I perch; I simply monitor it with unease. I meagerly suck at it and hardly flourish. To be in the garden, silently telling myself: 'this is now, this is now, this is now....' To pull a weed, break a clod into finer tilth, to smooth the soil around a fragile stem - this is now. And later I will water and the sun will go down and perhaps I will sit in the evening and have a glass of wine in celebration of a day done. It should be so easy.
You could ask me about what I wrote a year ago, or five, and I possibly could not tell you and would not recall if you read it to me - except for the style; I do read things I have not knowingly seen before and know that I have written them. It is the style, like a fingerprint or corneal snapshot; the inner sanctum opens, a strange world - but familiar. Different me's have written all, and we are related only by the thin strand of the present me, congruent ghosts. It is not as chaotic as it sounds. It is always me. Each of us is like the endless caves under Arkansas. Walking labyrinths. Some simply never have the time to figure it out and recognize this. It is not quite the insanity plea: when brought up on charges we can only claim "we did it; we must have; we know it in our bones - we just can't quite remember it."
I should be the dog and Waldo the dad, the decision-making one. I could limp from day to day without thought or pang and never know the sorrow of being. The needle would only be a needle, and the sleep only sleep. My dog-bones would rest in complete peace, and I would never have written a word. All would be well. Drop my flesh in a hole in the garden and tell the shoots "This is now."