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

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lemongrass Rye

The body’s labor allows the detached mind a certain buoyancy. The mind cannot forget the usefulness of its slightest fantasy, and the succor it brings the toiling body. These fantasies, once endowed with purpose, even if anodyne in nature, gradually gain weight and meaning beyond what their architecture may bear, and so the mind flies on, looking for a studier frame on which to hang its gathering ornaments of meaning, and suddenly lamp goes out, it’s time for dinner, and a whole section of vines, pruned and staked, stands at attention behind you.

I cannot write on a full stomach. I skip dinner, if I am steady and strong, and play stork to the day’s newborn fantasies-although, very often, though carelessness, gin, or malice, the bundles are delivered to the wrong house, and the ewe nurses, with fearful love, the crocodile. The heaviness of birth is matched only by the lightness of the courier’s wings, and the raindrop comedy goes on and on, propelled by thunderclap applause.

But Suzanne came a day early, pulling up in her Budget truck between two cloudbursts as I was flipping venison burgers off the grill, carrying, bless her, two growlers of Free State beer. The next morning Kansas was moving under four wheels away from us as we climbed the plains. My life of nourishing solitude, muscled contemplation, and a peace as complete as the ringing of a bell, was over. Life on the road is an exegesis of landscape, and I took solace in the psalms of that good book-the pleading of the plains, the vengeance of the mountains, the repentance of the desert. My body was restless, and saw Bathsheba in every farm, but its petitions were in vain-its bondage complete. We moved westward- extending the sunsets by a half an hour, taking the prairie schooner road on down to Santa Fe.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive

I am a forgetfulness engine, and women, when they become mine, discover new depths to their sleep. I carry a perfume of oblivion about me; it is not surprising how regularly I forget swallows. And then there they are, as unlooked for as waking.

As Steve taught me how to fish for black bass in the Sacramento River Delta, along a dike made of discarded concrete upon which a feral fig tree, of dubious bird-dropt origin, towered over us, swallows performed their inexplicable acrobatics, combining the prolificacy and activity of insects with the soft-bodied vigor of the higher, heavier creatures. Their movement is grace and form without delicacy. Speed and sharpness are their sole commandments, and their piety never flags. Watching the swallows tie intricate, nautical knots in the air around our boat, I recalled my first meeting with them, as a child, in Mentor, Kansas. I was the fastest, highest jumping, and most agile child on earth, (it was a burden, but I think I carried it well) but all I had to do was look skyward to know the peace of humility. There existed something higher, animals that lived in a universe of agility and power barely even perceptible to me. In the evening the swallows were most active, and I would stand in the empty playground of the abandoned school my mother, aunts and uncle had attended, and watch them until dark, when they were not shamed by the appearance of their sisters, the stars. They wear tailed blue tuxedos, and they are my favorite birds.

I began to imagine a pair of swallows making a mud-cobbled nest in our nearly unused barn at the farm, and then I began to imagine two pairs. Swallows have a morality as progressive as their flight. They fall in and out of love as they fall in and out of the air, but they marry for life, and males often raise broods sired by another--though just as often they don’t. Widows may remarry. Widowers die alone.

I forgot my wish soon after it was conceived, until one evening last week, I happened to take my book outside and found myself reading on a bench facing the corral and barn. There they were, two pair of swallows, terrorizing the insects and in great spirits. Setting my book down, I hopped the fence and stepped into the barn. Hugging the rafter nearest the hatch leading to the loft, a neat little mud nest.

Other wishes are being fulfilled. Two days after lamenting with my mother an absence of toads, I was called upon to rescue one from a pair of feral kittens hypnotized by her pleasant, hopping gait. Later that day, the smallest box turtle I have ever seen was found toiling under the peonies--a wish anticipated.

I asked for visions, and was sent the white weasel, that lives in the pile of bricks near the vineyard--all that remains of the pillared white house that burned down a year before my birth. When I explore the country-side, I see ghosts in overalls carrying water or sacks of seed along weed conquered sandstone walls towards a house that hasn’t had a roof in fifty years.

How else can I be blessed? How many other gifts can I carry? But then, this weekend when my sister visited, she changed the stereo from my standard classical station, (they seem to have lost the announcer whose pronunciation I was in love with anyway-the one who never gave her name and played Shostakovich with obsessive regularity) switched to A.M. and suddenly a station out of Wichita came through, carrying bags and bags of static and loud brrs and pops, that plays only old country music. I’m listening to it now. When I began this, Loretta Lynn was singing “Don’t Come Home from Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind)” and now Johnny Cash is singing “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” I always wanted a reason to listen to A.M. On commercial breaks an announcer updates me on wheat, beef, porkbelly, and soybean futures.

My wish for a pretty waitress in Salina? Still rather grotesquely unfulfilled.

"Could be holdin' you tonight... could stop doin wrong and start doin' right. You don't care what I think. Think I'll just stay here and drink...."

Sunset in the Vineyard with Jethro

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Moths and Vinegar

Debbe's moldy cheese was gathering the weeks in a closed porch behind her house that also served as a workshop. The handle of her hammer had grown a knot of wax halfway towards its head, where a small woman would most comfortably grasp it after working with her beehives. She cut us each a slice of the aged cheese. Its sharp, dry, goaty flavor made us thirsty, and we moved inside.

Mead was fermenting in several twenty gallon bottles underneath her kitchen table, each bottle fitted with an intricate bit of tubing fitted into the top that relieved the pressure. She counseled us to hush.

“They talk to me. Shhh and you can hear them.”

A few long moments of expectant silence passed, and then the mead found its voice.

“Gung-gu-glunk?” It inquired, the sound echoing bright and round off the sides of the plastic bottle. Debbe was giddy as a new mother at her mead’s performance. In order to find “the good one,” she had to tip each bottle over and pour out a taste, often swirling with bits of wax. Scott and I each had a canning jar from which to drink, and sampled most of the bottles along with Debbe. Each batch shared an alcoholic strength, but the flavor, thickness, and shade of amber varied greatly. The alcohol went immediately to our heads, clandestinely preparing us for a transformational experience. Finally, she came upon the object of her search. As soon as the liquid conformed to the shape of our jars, we could tell that this mead wore a different cloth than its brothers that it was a drink as fair as Joseph. The liquid shined like polished mahogany. A delicate froth burst audibly on the surface, releasing a rich, yeasty scent. Scott and I raised the jars to our lips with reverence and sipped. An autumnal flavor emerged, as if the honey we had always known and loved was but a child—this was a taste still unquestionably honey, but aged and hoary, a honey with wisdom and forbearance, but delicate as an old man’s bones or the powder on a moth’s wings. Debbe, oblivious to us, gazed at her creation with an admiration softened by the fondness that often accompanies friends of long-standing.

“It’s in its second fermentation,” she informed us, and then moved some papers around on her table so that we would have a place to sit down.

--From the forthcoming Edges of Bounty: Adventures in the Edible Valley

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

His Fifty Years of Exile

"A hermitage in the forest is the refuge of the narrow-minded misanthrope; a hammock on the ocean is asylum for the generous distressed. The ocean brims with natural griefs and tragedies; an into that watery immensity, man's private grief is lost like a drop."


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Author, Having Outgrown His Only Suit (with Little Sister)

Monday, July 03, 2006


Nightly, my mother drives into Salina to feed medicine to a mentally disabled woman named Helen. Helen lives in the basement of an old two story home that has been cut up into apartments whose tenants the State has decided are not able to care for themselves. Upstairs from Helen, lives a girl named Nicole with her four year old daughter, Abby. Nicole is diagnosed bipolar, which she well may be, but, primarily, she’s an old fashioned tramp. Her little girl (she has three other children who each live with a different daddy), though four years old and obviously bright, is still in diapers. Nicole’s psychiatrist, although aware that she is very probably an unfit mother, believes that her behavior is better when her daughter is with her, and so muddies every attempt to place Abby with Abby’s father. Often Nicole calls mom to demand that she baby sit Abby because of a pressing doctor’s appointment for one of her various imagined illnesses, only to arrive at the same time as an eighteen year old boy on an Asian motorcycle who intends to take Nicole to the lake. Nicole is small, fair skinned with dark hair and violent, mistrustful eyes, attractive, and a year younger than me.

Three days ago, Nicole called to say that she had captured a baby robin. It had broken one of its legs, and had been wandering around the yard. Mom, naturally, rushed to the scene. Nicole, cleverly using two milk crates of different sizes, one red and the other black, had fashioned a cage for the young bird. Mom brought it home and I gathered grasses and food and water dishes to make the bird’s stay more comfortable, more… likely to sustain such fragile life. The little robin was mostly fledged, vigorous, and, to me, obviously female. I named her Grisette. We loosely bandaged Grisette’s leg and fed her a mixture of hard boiled egg and mulberries. In order to keep her away from the cats, we ran a chain through the bottom of the cage to the top, then, utilizing my still intact tree climbing abilities, conscripted a tree branch as a pulley and hoisted her hospital well into the air.

Grisette was alive the next morning and rasping out curses like a young crow to the strange new galaxy surrounding her. According to my research the night before, she required worms and insects. Immediately, I found an inchworm, fallen providentially into the water tank outside my trailer. Before one of our new goldfish could devour it, I rescued it, and, pouting, showed the charming creature to mom. Both of us agreed that an inch worm’s manner of movement is too inventive, yet awkward, for us to condemn it, let alone perform the ritual slaughter, moreover, it was a pleasing lime green color. It is said that one is not allowed to show more compassion than God, but I did not mention this to my mother. We decided that an earthworm could be fed to the little bird with the least amount of guilt, and probed places all over the farm in our search. We turned up a grub in Roe’s wheat field, and, after much debate, attempted to feed it to Grisette. The grub turned out to be too large, and since cutting it up was out of the question, the little monster was spared. There was but one half-solution. I walked shirtless out into the trees and, shuddering, let the mosquitoes come to me. Within five minutes I had collected a bloody table spoon of mosquito corpses which we mixed into the egg and mulberry mixture. We lowered Grisette’s hospital to the ground four times a day, and mom held her while I pinched food into the pliant maw of her long thin beak.

This morning, Grisette broke free.

Mom had unwisely decided to feed our ward on her own, and when she separated the crates, Grisette heroically flew into the trees of our north pasture. She still flew very low, and struggled to find purchase on the branches, but she was gone and not to be recaptured. After this confession, I saw that mom had half-hoisted up the crate and turned one 90 degrees so that, if she wanted, Grisette could return to our care.

The melancholy of the open cage, hoisted in the air with a chain, but only halfway, swinging in empty and meaningless welcome, has stayed with me all day.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

What Happens to Boys Instead of the Giggles


Have fun at the pub, bitch. The extent of my social life is telling the clerk I've got the two pennies to make even change for my pack of starbursts. I can't even get a second glance from the underage skanks buying twelve packs of 3.2. Coors at the Kwik Shop. The only thing of-age about these girls is their cold sores.

Swat a monster mosquito for you? These damn things are so built that if you got one in a strapless dress she'd be prom queen. One guy trapped one underneath the hood of his 78 Pinto and is out every night drag racing the El Caminos downtown. Three of the top Tour de France riders now disqualified? It's not the doping; they're actually mosquitos.

This is the comment I left Galen on his blog. I imagine it will leave him properly chastened.


Wait. Don't run...

We're here to help you. You see, we know that these very annoying, seemingly endless, and completely incosequential quiz postings are a MOTHERFUCKING CRY FOR HELP. Now, now, you know that denial is the first stage, then comes resentment, and then acceptance. Galen, you have a problem. And that's ok. We're all human. We're not all shamefully addicted to meaningless internet quizes, trying to validate our pathetic existence by allowing a computer program designed by a 13 year old girl named Brandi to tell us what kind of unicorn we are, like you, but we all have our problems. Mine is this condescending tone. It's the biscuits to my gravy. But this isn't about me. This is about you, and the juvenile, simpering, emotionally masterbatory habit you've developed for telling us what color your inner kitten is: "Pink with baby-blue tips." As interesting as that is, are there perhaps better ways of communicating, are there not? I thought so. See, we're making progress already.

Now cut it out or this intervention will turn into inter-nal bleeding. Ow! My wit's so sharp I got razor burn!


Hm. Maybe this solitary life is getting to me.