Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Every Blossum a Peach
There is a dandelion here in my back yard as tall as a tree. I fight it out, getting the weed tool in deep almost to the handle – and sonuvabitch – the blade busts off.
I throw it down and flop over on my back. I just lay in the weeds that way watching the dark heavy clouds go by and wondering if I have tornado insurance. I have never seen a tornado. I have lived in Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Minnesota, Illinois, East Texas, West Texas, North Texas, South Texas, Louisiana, every state in Tornado Alley and have never seen a tornado.
Normally I don’t feel old. I feel pretty much the way I did in my thirties. But when I get down pulling weeds, I come away feeling my mortality all over, wondering how many years I’ve got left. I turn my head away from the clouds and look at my darling, my jewel. My little peach tree. It’s a tiny thing, sort of like a bonsai peach tree if there’s such a thing. But this little tree, it has guts. It has heart. I count about 47 blossoms and more on the way. It blossoms before it has leaves, which says something about sex in the scheme of things. I bought this tree when it was a skinny sapling and planted it the first year I lived here as a talisman against my karma. This is the first home I’ve ever owned, on paper at least. I will not pay the mortgage off during my lifetime. This the first tree I’ve ever planted. These are the first weeds that have offended me. The peach tree is my statement to God about my life. My living prayer to whoever is in charge here – please let me stay this time.
My very first memory is lying in a baby crib. Above my head was a mobile of bright little colored plastic birds. A red bird, which many years later I think must have been a little Cardinal. My pudgy hand reaches for it and in that moment my destiny and curse are set. My next memory is of moving. And the next. And the next. I have never lived more than five years in any one place in all my life because somebody in my family was always reaching out for something they couldn’t touch. In the more than half a century of my sojourn here on God’s foot stool I have never lived in a place more than five years. Ever.
The jobs for my father kept us moving up the ladder but they were always somewhere else. Then there were my religious years, the most intensely wandering period of my life. And then the after-religious years, where my job-career or whatever it is I should call it, that kept moving too. They make you this offer you can’t refuse. If you want to know where your family’s next meal is – it’s over that-away. 1995-2000; Panama. 2000-2003; Puerto Rico. 2003-2005; San Antonio Texas. 2005 – 2010; Augusta.
2010. Coming up against the mark. 2010 – the year Arthur C Clarke thought we would make contact with aliens. Two more years and the world is supposed to end. I see the bees having sex with my peach blossoms and think, this would be as a good a place for the world to end as any.
Got to get a weed digger.
I take off for the Green Thumb Nursery down the road and my kid comes with me. I love this place. I could get a weed digger cheaper at Wal-Mart but I want to go to Green Thumb just for the beano. Its where I got my tree. I buy carnivorous plants there when they come in. The green house has a silent serenity to it like a shrine to all living things. I see a tropical pitcher plant I covet, even though its expensive. It’s a Nepenthes Miranda, a monster native to Thailand, with pitchers as big as beer mugs. I leave the green house to stop thinking about it and go outside and stand by the water garden and my kid wanders off. I always visit the water garden. Water gardens are a kind of southern thing, because of the mild winters. This water garden is a small artificial pond about six by four feet. Its filled with plants. But it’s the big gold fish I come to see. I stand looking at the fish for a long time. The fish hang in the water like small orange zeppelins, at peace, not moving. A couple of fish browse on the surface, watching me without fear. They have everything they need. They have everything they want.
The ache in my muscles (why does my ass hurt too?) makes me count the years that may be left. I’m 56. My dad died at about 76. My uncles have mostly made it up to 80. We’ll say fifteen years. Anything after that is a bonus round. And then what? Oblivion? Heaven or hell? I squat down and watch the fish. I want to be the God who gave all that to those fish. Good water. Lots of food. Safety from predators. They could live longer than wild fish, in a simple and uneventful life that never changes. I would like to make a heaven where that would be possible where every blossom becomes a peach, where nothing is starved or lonely. Where the women come and go offering passion and intimacy and wisdom and there are no secrets between any of us.
Is that a good heaven to offer anyone? Would women, or anyone at all in such a peaceful and safe place even be capable of anything like intimacy or passion, the emotional rawness of all or nothing desire? I have lived so in many places where there was nothing safe or guaranteed.
The road years, everything changing and moving, intense, crazy, adventurous, beautiful, ugly, sacred, profane, obscene, sometimes mortally dangerous. People pulled guns on me. One guy pulled a knife. Men hunted for me in the dark, intending to kill me. Those were exciting years, but you can push your luck. Now Augusta.
I wave my hand over the water and the shadow passes over the fish below. They must see it, but they never move.
My kid comes up. “Whatcha doing?”
“Watching these fish.”
He’s instantly bored. “Are we going soon?”
“Yeah. I just want to watch these fish a minute. I wonder how they make it through the winter.”
Without Augusta there would be no writing. That is one of the things writers never talk about. Especially male writers. We want to be Hemingway, or Hunter Thompson or Bukowski some gruff voiced adventurer who has lived among cannibals, lived with beautiful women, slept till noon and screwed them all. But the dirty secret is you can’t write that way. The hardest thing about writing really is just getting your ass in the chair and keeping it there until you’re done. Every single day. It’s a job for married guys. Guys who aren’t going anywhere in particular. There’s nothing glamorous about it. It’s as solitary and just as lonely as masturbation. You go to that place where the chair and the keyboard are and you do those rituals that allow you to crawl as far into your head as you can before shouting women and children arrive to pull you out of it. For that you need stability. Its no coincidence I didn’t write anything during my road days or my moving around years. You have to stay put. Then you have the problem those goldfish have. A quiet life but not much to say. If the fish had to write only what they know – what would they write?
Augusta is that dull and stable little place that erupts once a year for the Masters Golf Tournament and then nothing ever happens again. But it’s a good place for me to patch my bones, tally up the check and try to make sense of where I’ve come from. Then to write. I do write what I know. What I know is the inside of my head and the many pathways that might have been. The Red Door.
“I’ve been talking to Daniel.” My kid says. Daniel is his cousin-birth brother in New York City.
“How’s he doing?”
“He says he’s going to NYU next year.”
“That’s where I want to go.”
“We don’t have the money. Its better if you go to Georgia State, you need to keep your grades up so you can get a scholarship for it.”
“But I really want to go to New York.”
“What’s so hot about New York?”
“I want to live in New York City.”
“I’ve lived in Manhattan, it’s not for everybody. It’s crazy. You feel like the whole world is made out of concrete.”
“That’s why I want to go there – it’s where everything is!”
“You want to get out of Augusta.”
I watch the fish, hanging there, lips moving. Nothing happening
I remember the road. 1983. Arkansas. I remember the Sheriff of Batesville dropping me and Eddie at the county line in the middle of the night, in the dark. He patted his gun holster. He said ‘Don’t come back, kid.” True story.
Down below, the fish don’t move. They never move. My kid is about seventeen. He’s just getting started.
“You’re right, you know? You need to get the hell out of this town.”