I couldn’t get up. I’d fallen and couldn’t get up. The bed held me, just as last night the wine held me. And I tried to remember why I should get up. My phone gave me junk mail, no messages from friends, no announcement that yes I was wanted and my talents were needed right now in this particular place with this particular group of people to solve this problem. I’ve been waiting for that message for a long time, and am slowly waking up to the fact that it will not come. Instead, my phone told me that the leaders of China and North Korea are meeting. That a drone was shot down over Iran. That the border teems with sorrow. My phone showed me photos of happy vacations elsewhere by other people who I hardly know. And still the bed held me. Coffee wasn’t reason enough. The sun outside not enough. My kids, either in bed or doing their own thing with friends, not enough. No human touch is on its way. No gaze. No shared confidence. Me — I had to get up for me. To shower and bathe my body with its 50s years of service. To find clothes that please and feel good to the touch. To make coffee as a ritual. To find the leash and let the dog guide me into this June morning. I have fallen and fallen again and each time I get up it is a practice of mastering love. Practice isn’t easy, but it’s familiar. And again and again I choose to get up.
It was the perfect day to hold a hoe, to hit the earth, to chant out loud, and to clear a row.
“Have you ever used a scraper hoe?” my farmer friend asked. “No,” I told her, but trying to sound more earnest than sassy — because I really wanted to be of use — I added, “but I’m a quick study!”
She’s a serious one, the farmer. A good one. Someone who might seem a bit scary from afar. But in getting to know her, it just seems there’s a no-fuss approach that runs deep. I appreciate this; I share a similar streak.
She took me to a long row approximately the length of a short-course swimming pool and told me that it held tomatillos. It looked to me to hold a lot of weeds, but as she pointed out the small plants, only a few inches high, I began to see a pattern.
It had rained last night, and I knew from my front flower garden and the handful of weeds that I’d pulled from it this morning that it was a good day to yank a living thing, roots and all, from the earth. I bent down and pulled at a weed expecting to extract it easily, as if it were greased. Instead, it clung obstinately to the cracked and clumpy soil, breaking low on its stem.
All of the rain, my friend explained, had turned the clay-heavy ground into cement. “The results of industrial farming,” she said ruefully.
Midwestern farmers have long depended on drainage tile to remove excess water from fields. But it also carries away nutrient-rich top soil. The existing tiles in Iowa alone would reach to the moon and back — two times. This micro farm is an attempt at something different.
While I bent and pulled and tried to figure out what was a weed and what was a plant, I thought how everyone should have to do work like this on a regular basis to better understand where there food comes from and the challenges to grow it free of chemicals and in a way that replenishes the earth instead of suffocating or draining of it anything vital. This should be part of every kids’ schooling. In the long run, it strikes me as way more necessary than much of the curriculum.
As I started into my weeding project, scraping and whacking, it amazed me that anything grew in this dirt. There were so many rocks that it seemed I could have paid homage several times over in a small cemetery. I pulled them into a pile and then leaned down and scooped them into the path that separated me from some cabbage. (Today, my back feels the effort.)
The other challenge was that the primary weed I was removing looked remarkably like the adolescent tomatillos. It was a cruel joke. Like there was a real oak and a pretend, “bad” oak side by side, and I had to play God and decide which was which. Sometimes the tomatillos had a yellow flower, a showy give-away of their true identity. I also discovered partway into the project that I could use the hoe to gently pull back the leaves: a red stem indicated the weed, a gray stem was the real deal.
The chant from my yoga teacher training bubbled up out of nowhere–Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya–and I started it up at a low hum–repeating and repeating with ease. The other sounds that accompanied me: A worker’s dog yipped whenever her owner got too far out of view. A herd of sheep from across the gravel road occasionally baahed at an audible level. And a mower kept at its insistent chore in a nearby field.
The work was hypnotic. The weather perfection with a bright blue sky and a strong breeze. When I had just a few yards left to go, I paused to admire how clean the rows looked. The plants, which had previously disappeared into the chaos, now dotted the bed at an orderly pace, separated by irrigation hoses. I didn’t want the task to end, although my hands were sore and chapped, and I could feel that the decision not to put on sunscreen, thinking it was late enough in the day to be safe, had been a poor one.
Once I was done (though weeding is never really done, it’s just an improvement on what was and within hours can seem pitifully insufficient), I set my nifty hoe against the barn and walked to pick up my CSA batch–an overflowing bag of the expected, including sweet lettuces and tiny carrots, and the challenging. I nearly passed at the fennel but then recalled my intention to learn to make mussels with fennel and Pernod.
On the drive home, a podcast asked: “When was the last time a few hours flew by without you noticing?” I smiled. How lovely not have to pause for a moment toward an answer.
“There’s a way not to be broken that takes brokenness to find it.” – Naomi Shihab Nye
We fanned our programs left to right, forward and back, with the flick of a wrist to keep the air moving across our sweaty faces,
As the 17- and 18-year olds took to the stage at the far end of the sports arena.
One by one, their names were announced with solemnity by their Vice Principal, who only paused once for water as he moved from A to Z.
They walked in Van’s and heels, Chucks and Chacos, loafers and Crocs, called forth to The Next, called forth to Be-Come.
As I tried to catch a bit of breeze from my ex-husband’s program which he fanned next to me, I couldn’t help but think how each of the graduates will suffer terribly.
Maybe not soon. Maybe tomorrow.
There will be a moment of wrenching loss, a period of bleak desolation, a shock of painful honesty.
Break! — we dare of them. Break because it is the only way forward.
(And all of the geometry in the world, every last band concert and hall pass and smear of lip gloss will not save you from it.)
Break! — we try to warn them. Break because it is inevitable.
(And the best college or the fiercest military service, that mundane cubicle job or the trip into the disappearing rain forest will not change that. Staying single or placing your bets on a polyamorous post-post modern world will not change that. Gluten free or meat and potatoes will not change that.)
Break! — we hum from our own broken hearts. Break because it is freeing.
In the cracks, you’ll discover another layer of yourself and yet another below that.
In the cracks, you’ll mine the gold of your own Self, that person who is so much more intricate than school has ever hinted at.
You’ll discover a golden hue more rapturous than any revealed by your art teachers,
an element that may bear the atomic table number 79 but that is far rarer than your chemistry teacher suggested
a vein so unfathomably deep, it would make any of the California miners you encountered in 10th grade gape.
Break open and you will be illuminated in ways that the sweat on your brow and the arena’s overhead lights on this humid May evening can only whisper is possible.
It’s almost a year and the grief has become stale, no longer the glistening beautiful wound –
Rather, one that is growing grey around the edges, with a stench of decay.
Early grief has drama and holds possibility for the world’s notice:
We slow for the accident that just happened, some morbid part of us hoping to glimpse a twisted limb.
But we don’t show up at the house of the injured a year out; there’s no desire to be in the presence of that unending sorrow.
Months pass, years, and it is tiresome; there are no words, no exclamations.
Only the hut of silence is the right place for this stage of grief.
Silence stretching out
like clouds gliding
like insects chewing
like peaches ripening
like the earth waiting for our warm body’s return.
There are gashes all over this topography that is my body.
Some tiny and others gaping, each a place where salt hisses and air stings.
Last night I read too much of another person’s journey — her quick movement from celibacy to a new lover and of his balm toward healing her.
Last night I heard a creature die outside my window, thrashing in the bushes, squawking in pain and dismay until its cries grew too muted to discern.
And this morning I wonder: Why do I keep licking licking licking at these wounds?
Let them heal, silly woman. Let them be.
Sit in wonder at the hum all around you, of life being born into new erotic pleasure,
Of life ending in throes of dismay.
Sit in wonder at the children growing into beings of change and agency
and of elders reinventing themselves in life’s final chapters.
Sit in wonder at each wound, including those you have gashed into your own flesh.
You know–I know you do–that each one will heal in its time, magically binding back together.
Let the scars that emerge serve as a trail of what makes you holy.
I’ve kept this photo on my desktop for several years and am always pleased to rediscover it. It’s like a koan I save for future consideration.
He is a tailor. This is his one-man shop where he’s worked in New York for 50-odd years. He’s been here through Bushes and Clintons and Reagan and Nixon. Back before Subway was a thing, and before McDonald’s sold billions. When coffee was still Folger’s and not something you walked around town with in one hand, like a clutch. Before clothes became so disposable. Eons prior to Bitcoin and Paypal.
All of these days, weeks, years, decades, he has been in the shop hemming and mending as pants’ lengths changed and when women wore more and then less. I imagine him standing and sitting, a sort of prayer as he moves from one task to the next, pins clenched in his teeth.
I wonder about the soundtrack of his days. A crackling radio playing Yankees’ games? Neighbors yelling? Taxis morphing into Ubers, the latter honking less than the former. A cash register with a caching and a ring? Does the subway–the one on tracks, not the one with buns–rattle the ground he stands on?
I like the simplicity of this space. It is compact, bright, clean, and yet dotted with pictures that could grace a parlor. And there’s something about that liquid contraption that reminds me of an IV and adds a quality of both illness and healing. I wonder what is behind the photographer–a fourth wall? Or does it open into a modernity that would dash me?
I don’t want to be small. I want to be like the night sky–vast and infinite. And yet I want to be this simple, everything fitting into a well-lit room, and my task being one of mending. I want to show up no matter who is in the White House, no matter the style, and simply mend that which is in front of me. My pins are carefully chosen and more carefully placed. And when someone comes to pick up their order, they are well pleased. This is how I want to live my life.
Yesterday I read an article about the disappearing wildlife of Vietnam. Not like a gradual glide to the Great Off Stage, but a meteoric blast of now-you-see-em-now-you-don’t. The rest of the day, those animals, especially the saola (an animal so little known that even spellcheck doesn’t recognize it) stayed with me. The mammals on Chinese diners’ plates. The animal pieces in Asian medicines. The rangers-turned-poachers. The silence of the forest. The elusive birds and bears are huddled around me.
On the beach near where I am staying, there is a homeless encampment where the smell of weed wafts, only to hit the surf and dissipate. Maybe 25 yards away, I communed with a dog named Zen who found a shady spot against the sea wall while his human friend, an artist of the ephemeral, created a balancing act out of rocks — hoisting with muscle, placing with precision.
Our world’s precarity can only be addressed if we are not off in that mind place of “what if…” (and lord knows I was there much of last night, dragging myself into the plastic-strewn depths) — instead, we must commit to staying with our breath, eyes, and heart trained on the relationship of the largest rock and the smallest. Like the beach artist, we must hear the ocean and its enormity behind us while caring immensely about the possible shift of a pebble to the whole. We must be ardent in our practice to stay here.
“There” is the mindset that turns us into poachers and poached. It’s the mindset that let’s us allow the saola to disappear and the man to stay in the tent.
We are all poached, each and everyday, through our phones and the wires, through mindless interactions. When we breathe into this moment here and feel equally at home in the sadness of being left in a way you didn’t even know you cared about until you touched your chest and felt a scar under your fingertips, to the moments of crystalline joy as the sun and a wave effortlessly create a glint so pure. Can we love both?