Assorted Odd Ends with Occasional Stuff on the Side
Friday, June 30, 2006
"Coffee with Roxie"
Young enough to be my granddaughter, you bow your dark-haired head over your latté and push the highlighted strand back from your eyes as you tell me, shyly and hesitant, how you've decided to commit to a relationship with Anne, acknowledging your own identity at last as well as your need for another. Details, then, tumble over themselves as you move quickly beyond the hard words of admission into the swirling excitement of consequence -- styles of curtains and sheets, patterns of breakfast china and couch upholstery, towel colors and the arrangements of furniture -- all that new thingness of union, and easier than the still-unfamiliar and slippery terrain of the heart you struggle to negotiate in words. Then you pause, raise your head, and, your eyes pure light, tell me how her presence makes you want to tear her clothes off, throw her on the bed, and make her come again and again with your hands and mouth and body until she begs you to stop before she dies.
And old enough to be
your grandfather, I want to be young and female and to wrap my arms and legs around you and clasp you tight until I die of your eyes' light.
On the surface of the old, slow river, fragments of incandescence drift across familiar green murk as birch and hickory whittle morning to shavings. A blue jay, lost in new foliage, tosses splinters of song down through air touched with the scent of tea olive planted next to the kitchen window up the slope of the hill. You stand for a moment, then turn to look past the cedar to the ripples where a mate-hungry carp has just slapped the river with its tail, ritual announcement of spring's arrival. A few steps away, the shed, long empty, where the roan pony called every morning and evening for its food and brushed against you like a large collie, eager to be stroked. Gone now as the daughter is gone. You finger the moldering bridle, then turn back to the dozen mudstone steps cut and set in the hillside three decades ago. The blades of arthritis stab knees and hips as you climb back to the house perched on the hillside for the final time. The last truck waits to take you three miles to the ground-floor apartment devoid of memories.
That's what it was called, though it was really just a weekend of rush and flurry near the end of August when it was time for the late-summer harvest in Aunt Lillian's garden. Husbands and uncles dispatched into the hot green corridors thumpingly filled galvanized buckets my cousin and I ferried to the three reigning sisters in folding lawn thrones under the huge maple near the kitchen. They strung and snapped variously-shaped and -hued pods as quickly as thought. Once their large bowls were filled, they disappeared inside the kitchen, and their places were taken by the husbands and uncles stringing and snapping, then returning to the alleyways of green to pick more. To venture into the kitchen was to enter a world of heat and steamclouds like thunderheads struck through with the lightning of the sisters' tempers. But the glistening lines of empty Ball jars on the counter were gradually transformed into sealed cylinders of green light which was the bounty of beans -- bush beans, pole peans, snap beans, wax beans, lima beans, French and Italian and broad beans, beans transmuted from soil and water and light into the stuff of winter dinners such as would sustain us through the months to follow after. Hallelujah!
Let it take place on a little hill, gentle, not steep, in the company of a few tall hardwoods -- sycamores, tulip poplars, cottonwoods -- such as love nearby running water. The time is to be just before dusk on St. John's Eve. Each participant receives a bee's wax taper tied with fresh sprigs of caraway thyme and rosemary -- "that's for remembrance." They form a circle and join hands silently for one minute, after which all drink a cup of wine, a vintage St. Julien, and the fifty silver balloons are released, each bearing its small linen packet on a red silk string; all light their tapers and descend the hill as I am scattered in fifty directions through the dusk of the shortest night of the year.
There are some islands of memory that drift unanchored through the sea of the everyday and the known. Fish camp -- on a wooded hilltop, a large screened porch, dense heat that powers the whine of mosquitos, the abrasive smell of hot iron kettles over fires, oil hisses with catfish and hushpuppies, potato salad cold and dill cuts the grease coating the tongue, and ice rattles in thick glasses heavy with sweet tea. A rust hound snaps tossed bits of fish in flickering firelight. Adult voices indistinct and uninteresting drift in and out beyond a creased deck of Old Maid cards yellowed by the porch light. Who inhabited this island, and when and where -- all these have fallen off the edge of the world.
The first time we grew herbs, we planted the whole back yard, and the harvest took us by surprise; we simply weren't prepared for the burden of abundance we found ourselves faced with. Some herbs to be used fresh, with others, just enough, to see us through the winter with delicate reminders of the warmth and motion of summer gone -- that's all we thought we'd have. We cut, bundled, and tied stems -- rosemary, thyme, marjoram -- and hung them from the cords we'd stretched across the pantry. Without making a noticeable dint in what still flourished in the sun. We stretched more cords across the kitchen, cut and hung more herbs -- dill, mint, tarragon -- without reaching a conclusion. More cords across the den, more herbs -- oregano, sage, rocket -- then into the bedroom -- basil, chives, savory -- before arriving in the living room -- parsley, fennel, bay -- and the end. Tsunamis of scent swept through the house, swamping the day-to-day with rich exuberance that tired the nostrils. Neighbors complained that we were using too much air freshener. Bees lay siege well into winter. Eventually, fragrance faded, and we were left dodging dangling bundles gathering dust, lashed together with spiderwebs. We gathered them -- wheelbarrow loads -- hauled them out, and burned them; it took much of the day, and the scents returned, ascending back to the sun.
Now we ask only
for the merest pinch, artfully deployed by the sparest of hands.
Why is it for this man that perfection's not enough? What is it draws him back each morning to the rocks fronting the sea, turning his back on the scents of cedar and thyme my island births, turning his back on the grapes heavy in the sun, turning his back on me waiting to be plucked and devoured? Goddess, I draw him to my bed each night but cannot hold him past the dawn. She it is who pulls him from my bed, she who withers day by day, aging like shriveled fruit, unlike myself or what I promise him. What is this restlessness that draws him only to what fails with time, that which I cannot understand because I cannot change.
I love her, but I will let her go back to the dark spaces underneath the fields burdened with the weight of wheat harvest-heavy, the olives' abundance arching the branches almost to the ground, the vineyard's grapes swollen to bursting. But not because of pomegranate seeds devoured in the dark nor elder brothers' treachery, even if that of gods. No, I send her back to that kingdom of the still for my own sake.
For I am worn
to exhaustion with the act of mothering. I have nurtured and nourished what sprang from me with my own substance, cradled to my chest and rocked in my arms what I bore with love, with care, with healing, all freely given. Now all has come to fruition, and though I will joy eventually, now I am drained, a vessel emptied of its wine, and seek only repose that brings renewal. So it is I send her back into the dark again that I may love her like a mother once more.