"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


  1. The Storm

Like a wish fulfilled, but unwanted, the clouds appeared in the northern edge of the sky just as the mid-day temperature peaked. With symphonic patience, the clouds darkened, grew tall, dark, until finally, in the distance, the ogre could be heard to roar in his cave. The ground winds blew steadily against the storm, heavy with the hot breath of the southern deserts. Within an hour from the first humble appearance of the cloud, all was dark, and the air slept where it stood.

  1. The Horses

Johnny, my mother’s old cutting horse, is buried in the vineyard. An evening thunderstorm caught him there but two weeks ago. Mom heard the bolt of lightening that killed him, and when she found him, moved the earth over his body. As the thunderhead’s tentacles reached towards us, we left off our planting of Orange Muscat, threw our tools in the truck, and I drove out to where the horses grazed-the farthest corner of the field. A loaf of day-old raisin bread, packed for just such a purpose, was used to lure the horses homeward. After Mom showed them a slice and hopped back in, I urged the truck forward and the horses ran after me in a beautiful, electric, cacophonous line. I watched them in the rear view as I drove under trees, along fences, and through the field until they were stored near the barn, munching happily on their raisin bread, safe from the lightening that my mother is certain hunts them.

  1. Waiting

The storm behaved like a chained dog. The thunder was ceaseless, and flash lightening blinked regularly through sky, but no rain came as a gift to the earth, no winds threatened the buildings and trees. I switched the flat tire on the car with a fresh tire and Mom had the boys take the laundry off the line. I loitered by the truck and listened to Finlandia on the radio, matching the swells and torment of the music to the humble movements of the ducks, chickens, and goats. Every living thing waited for the chain to break, and the dog to be upon us.

  1. The Mulberry Tree

On the west edge of the vineyard grows an enormous mulberry tree. As I drove out to retrieve our grazing horses, the truck brushed one of its branches, creating a minor shower of ripe berries. I recalled this half-forgotten scene as I paced impatiently underneath an angry, impotent sky. Also in the west, the storm could be seen in action, sweeping earthward in strong dark streaks of rain. Coffee tin in hand, I left the house and walked out to the vineyard, through the vines, and to the border of our land. Every third berry was ripe, and the tree towered twenty feet over me. To harvest the mulberries, I had only to touch the small fruit once, and the stem broke, toppling it into my tin. Swallows fought the winds high above the ground. Cicadas, lured by the darkness spread by the clouds, came out to sing early. Lightening bugs flew low and mimicked the violence of the storm gently in the grasses. All of my fingers, save both pinkies, were stained purple by the time I had gathered half a tin of mulberries. Another wind arrived, cool and urgent from the west: the rain’s herald. I heard the downpour march across our neighbor’s fresh cut wheat field and then it swallowed me. The swallows took refuge in trees. The lightening bugs turned out their lights. The cicadas ground out their song like a cigarette. And I, with a lunatic grin, ran towards the house with my half-filled coffee tin of mulberries, leaping over the electric fence, dodging the drinking vines, arriving drenched and giddy at the trailer. Dripping, I stood inside the trailer with the door open, and breathed enormously the smell of the earth opening to the sky, the coolness of their ardor, enjoying, one at a time, the mulberries.

  1. Sunset

When the trees have not their leaves, the sunset can be viewed with pleasure from anywhere on the farm. However, in the summer, I must leave the hill on which the trailers, sheds, outbuildings and barn stand, all shaded by elms and osage orange and cottonwoods, and venture out to the vineyard. The day’s first storm was brief, and had moved on by the time the sun began its death walk. A distant western cloudbank wrapped the sun in royal purple and sent out a crown of rays: a perfect hosanna. To the south, another cloud bank hovered in grotesque majesty, the lowest fists of it caught the sunlight and burning a peach fire. The rest of the cloud, visibly stroked by fingers of wind, was dark to the edges of indigo. After the sun had gone silent, the cloud was the color of coal, and I stood in the field beneath it, small as plankton drawn up towards the whale.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters

This is a retreat. That must be squarely faced. In spring, I have been busy as spring, it is true, but summer has cruelly called and the question must be answered. Whither the fruits? Have I grown wilder, hopped cloven feet to the mountain top to rain my rank goat-piss over hill and dale, or have I become as unbodied as steam from life’s kettle?

My prose then, at present, in issue and intent, is autobiographical. I am near the end of my first full day at the farm. The cicadas are well into night’s warning. The day’s labor has been the easy construction of a consciously flimsy (and therefore mobile) electric fence, so that the horses may graze our vineyard’s edges. Mom is playing Florence Nightingale tearing up sheets into thin strips outside. The thin strips will then be tied at intervals between the electric fence posts. It is a persistent but necessary warning to our horses. Pause-- while I join her.

She is using the chore as an instructional activity for her two autistic wards, Reece and Tony, and so I may continue this resigned explication of my circumstances, fears, ideas, and doubts, limited, thankfully, by geography (2046 E. Farrelley Rd) and time (today).

This morning I set to work (as one sets to work on dessert, workmanlike but with distinct pleasure) on one story and one novella, bound together between two tattered covers the shade of yellow that so wishes it were brown, by J.D. Salinger, both from the narrative perspective of Buddy Glass, and both concerning his elder brother, Seymour Glass, a character possessed since childhood with the kind of effortless spiritual and poetic gifts that ensure that his premature suicide and spoonful of mature work become more important to his heirs than their own shamefully long-lived and long-winded lives. Seymour Glass is, second hand, that type of child whose gifts are so immediate and irreconcilable, and whose sensitivity is so complete, that he is less a human being than a lesson in fate. But what is to be learned from fate? And so goes on the relentless scab picking that inspires so much of human thought. I set the completed book down an hour ago, and it is responsible for this brief tongue loosening.

The careful reader will detect, even in the reader’s own invocation, that this missive relies heavily on Salinger for its measured, self-examining tone. Reading is so essential to me because I can borrow the voice of another when I (so frequently) lose my own.

On every blank page a bush burns but is not consumed by its burning. My impulse to write has always been, and is now confessedly, religious.—But just now, in my attempt to face the bush boldly and quit the manners of stuttering Moses, I take my stumped tongue and run blue-faced through the desert, stuttering Moses, defeated, triumphant, again. The burlesque slavery-house of Egypt is extant on every page as well.

The Salinger belongs to Dalyn, and was tossed in with my effects (three pairs of boxer shorts, five pairs of socks, three shirts, two undershirts, the usual hygene items, the collected short storied of Isaac Bashevis Singer-whose last name, I just now realized, has always, until now, called to mind the sewing machine, and never the verb-, Melville’s Israel Potter, and a collection of translated songs from the Baul, an ecstatic tradition of mystics in rural India. “Poison and ambrosia/of the immortal life/are one and the same/ thing to him./He is dead/while wholly living.” Familiar, but nourishing material. Also, two erratically filled and quite mangled notebooks, the favorite of which suffered the ignoble fate of being left to drown in an ice chest, rescued only after sever disfigurement by my wife.) because the night before I left, we had a lengthy (drawn out somewhat taffy-like owing to the quantity of wine consumed) argument over it. Absurd, you might say, that I argued so strenuously about a book I had not yet read (absurd, yet familiar to those truly close to me) but in this case, I, even after reading the book in question, am certain I was correct. The argument? I suggested that Salinger’s writing could be understood and appreciated as literature. Dalyn, perceiving some unnamed but probably existent slight in my application of the word literature, became incensed, and insisted, although without the metaphysical precision, that Salinger’s words were inscribed in fire on the throne of creation, before creation, and were revealed in their perfection, beyond time and human reason, to her at a moment of divine choosing in her youth. Well, Salinger is certainly literature, and what is more, is literary, which is to say, engaged very knowingly and transparently in a process of story and truth-telling that is bound and freed by its conventions.

Who among us do not grow fond of our chains?

Apparently, me. I ought to shut up and give in to my jailer.