We’ve sat on the porch and watched and listened to many summer thunderstorms roll our western horizon like a horde, like a million soldier army with only two feet, stepping heavy cannonade in between neighborhoods. Not last night. The cell was right over us. Shaking the house. Lighting up the bedroom like paparazzi peeking through our windows. Thunder seeming to ooze out from under us like worms out of the mud. Never would have believed it came from above. The house and farm was pounded by rain, and warned by lightning, we had our foundations tested for cracks of weakness. And we passed. We have too many, and they’ve all started working together to coincide like roots, and we held, broken as can be, more flexible for it. The baby that passes for a little boy didn’t lose a minute of sleep. Counted three corn stalks down. This calm, powder navy blue morning keeps last night’s weather like a secret. If you didn’t wake up from your dreams, watch daylight flash through sealed shut eyes, feel the monster knock up from under the bed hello, you would never know it had happened. That pleasant sounding, captured in a bottle, fun little Southern Summer thunder had stepped clean over our heads last night. Sparing us, but not before scaring us. We woke up this morning talking about last night like we both had the same nightmare.
And somewhere across the countryside, someone sat on their back deck grinning.
Our nightmare was their atmosphere for the evening.
Expectation. That’s it. That’s the secret to happiness. Fix your expectations. For example, the question, what is the meaning of life, is full of expectations. It’s like asking, what was the meaning of your trip to Disney when you’ve been on the road two hours and haven’t even made it South of the Border, South Carolina. You say life, like it’s a status, or a destination, when life is a series of complex, critical processes that require huge amounts of space, resources, and most of all, time. You’re kind of asking, what is the meaning of running really fast. We’re asking about the means as if it were the end. If we started at the beginning, we wouldn’t ask, because it’s quite clear life has no real meaning or purpose outside of addition. To see tomorrow. More, I guess, is the answer to that question. Your heart will keep pumping, legs moving, guts churning, carrying you over a cliff or into a thicket of thorns for all you care.
If you dig deep, into the pressurized ore of real honestly, you’re not asking about meaning or life. You’re complaining. You’re making a declarative statement about meaninglessness. You’re calling it hard, admitting the deficit between what we put in versus get out. To me, asking that question, you’re confessing to being somewhat recently touched by life, frightened by it, moved all those rumbling gut level meditations about the futility of your daily grind up into your mind, and it’s put pressure on your perception to do a little moral mathematics and determine all this sacrifice was in the pursuit of good. Well, it wasn’t. Because good is a one sided, half of the story, incomplete expectation, like the side of a quarter, it may win you the toss, but it will never not be just a millimeter or two away from loss. Good has cost. What pain have you had to go through before you recognized a good that was also true. A phrase like good food. Are you willing to see outside of time, and call hunger good too.
Expectations. That’s it. They’re the secret. To stop calling heads or tails in the air. And instead, figure out who is tossing the coin. And take their job.
An uneasy hen barks beside the bedroom window first thing. I forget who, but someone left the coop door wide last night. Sitting on the front porch while the coffee pot works magic in the laboratory. Cures Covid19. Cures cancer. Cures Tuberculosis of the spleen. Black earth bean. Bitter, dark chocolate, permeating, lingering. Sweating while piping warm liquid tumbles down bony rimmed, ringed and blind esophageal lining and those tightly pursed lips between pink acid coated cheeks. You don’t have a name on the inside of you. You’re not even someone to your organs. A level of cognitive distance where there is none physically will make it easier to make decisions to alter, or damage, or end the external you, for the sake of the squishy equipment kept inside.
Gentle early morning air is a goody two shoes gossip, telling on a smoker down the street, front stoop arguments, dog happiness turned vicious over distance. Quiet morning minutes are some of the quickest in existence. If our whole lives were pure mornings we’d get eighty eight years knocked out in fewer than twenty two. In the morning, I would never forget to close the coop. That’s something that only happens in last night poems. Last night there’s little orange flickering yellow hearted tongues licking up and down limbs that fell in the recent storms, tickling stone faced fleeting trees. Battleships could loom up in the shallow darkness that devours night time distance and no one would know but cicadas, all hands on deck after about seventeen years below, driving nails into wood to keep the ocean out. Last night poems almost never get written in the moment. So damn hard to see the page, I feel like a kid with a coloring book, one crayon hung out from my mouth like a cigar, purple spirals on the outline of a hollow pirate ship.
First thing though, I’m van Gogh, giving an ear to my art, I hear every part, even the seventh chair flute at the top of the road shrilling intermittent up to a coda. I can see everything except for firelight. Trees are giant elephant’s feet. The fleet of battleships found their feet and out they slipped, to the deeper waters of the deeper woods, lobbing depth charges overboard that explode in unseen roots and turn submarines belly up like bloated fish. Last night, the yard was wrapped up in dark like a Christmas present, and this morning came in shorning and all that nighttime is balled up paper trash framing a new puppy. Today. Now. Right now, to be exact. Everyday starts this way. Five minutes of pure joy breathing stifling hot nighttime in a mug, followed by a lifetime of chasing, cleaning up after, mourning morning. And first thing becomes last night same as dreams.
While we sleep.
Times are bad.
Worse is coming.
The Petri dish warming.
We cooked the clock.
Now we learn what winters were holding back.
How seasons attack. When oceans rise up.
When microbial protesters crawl out from deep underwater
caves once graves and feel the blood of the world is warmer.
Life will slice like a scythe through the rest of life.
And just like before.
Scavengers re-inherit their world.
Learn to be like a servant to this planet. Its fireside scribe and storyteller.
Use language like music to tuck little locusts and stringed vipers in at night.
Group the cousins accordingly: elephants and ants, blue whales and Labrador retrievers.
Humankind curled up beside our closest living relative, a caterpillar in a cocoon.
Changelings. The earthworm and the fruit bat. The ostrich and the river trout.
Time starts slowest when we are growing. Then we develop a misplaced sense
this experience keeps forever. That’s when time speeds up a little bit every year,
every hit, every avoidable inevitable circumstance we suffer along the way.
Time reels us so quick we lose the fish off the hook and past, presence and priorities
blur and spawn and take over into one, one instance. One school of thought.
So we snap. Out. Of reality. Totally up to speed.
A pace the body can’t keep. We are out of time.
For the first time. Like a fish above the water.
Choking. On too much air to breathe.
Judy’s father passed when the boys were still pretty young, Jeremiah was in fifth, no, fourth grade, I believe. His eyes misted over, stared off in the direction the deer had disappeared into. It wasn’t the funeral. Open casket. The family gathering. Fried chicken and mystery casserole and three different things called salad that aren’t. But a few weeks prior, when Papaw was in a nursing home having his heart monitored, we were out at this local pizza buffet that let kids eat free if they showed a report card with all A’s and B’s. I remember this night as he’s telling it. He had some great scheme of activities to do with his grandpa once he was better. Walking the land. Picking corn by hand. Shooting guns off at pie pans. His mother and I were as burnt out and worn down as this pizza place by now. Faking hope is not energy efficient. So we told him. Right or wrong. Mistake, probably, or not. This poor kid. That his grandpa wasn’t going to make it. That this was his end. Everything we were all working so hard at, was not to keep him alive, but to make him comfortable. And he broke. He broke then. He broke this morning. Neither Olivia or I said a word to him. We did not know how important it was that we did, and perhaps he was right, we should have at least tried. But, as he claimed, in ever mounting, heated tones, we were afraid of him. Anyone else would get a kind word, even just an exercise in manners. Jeremiah claimed to be the only man in the world who could open up his heart to people and be met with nothing but sheer silence. The fact that he even stayed around us, he yelled, was a testament to the strength and bottomless charity of his character. Maybe he should just go on and do us all a favor and leave for good, forever. And this is where I royally messed up. Big time.
I said go ahead.
The mask is off the sun and that hot damp breath summertime is full of wickedness and germs. Dainty powdery white moths sew caterpillar seeds all over tomato plants hairy as spider legs. Tiny tinny metallic beetles have snipped the tassels off corn like old men plucking hair from their ears. So they can hear. The raspy phlegm crackling off powerlines. The pop pop pop of someone’s hair triggered insecurity across the countryside. The silent stuffiness hooked like fish on a trotline of trees. Clouds look like milk poured in water. Milk looks like clouds squeezed into stainless steel. The grass is dying. Trees are thriving.
It takes over eight minutes for the sun to close the distance between us. That breakneck pace, that lonely brimming emptiness, for eight whole minutes, like a bullet from a gun in a vacuum with nothing like air to impede it. Strikes skin and stops still hot. A planetary tanning bed basked in the affordable glow off nuclear fusion.
Earth. Where infinity finally meets its Zucchini.
I often tell myself, they see the world through their own eyes. They lay themselves down at night. We judge how a window views solely through a filter: distance. But when it comes to ourselves, there is none. We can not without consequence deem ourselves unworthy, as if we’re in the center of an ocean in a sinking boat with a spare one to climb into handy. For lack of the existence of a better word, you’re stuck. With you. I’m not. Love your enemy, as you love yourself. Thank you Professor Jesus. Let’s say this another way. The people who are good at chess play both sides of the table. Enemy is a storytelling device, a two dimensional rendering of a far more dangerous four dimensional threat. You are someone’s enemy. Often, more importantly, your enemy, is someone else’s you. Thinking.
Emotions, empathy, if this isn’t a human generated wireless exchange of energy, I don’t know what could be. But just because you look at someone and feel something does not mean that feeling has anything to do with that someone. It’s you. Your brain looks out at a larger world it can not control and paints in the blank, dimly lit spaces with you, your worst fears, hidden desires. Other people are fun-house mirrors, they shrink the mountains in our eyes into scarce specks of dust inside their own. And through that window, distance, you glimpse you in the face of someone you call you.
You sentence them to death.
Because deepest, within each tiny heart cell that beats same as your heart,
you sentence yourself.
Revenge just feels right in way justice never does.
Because revenge has distance in it.
And justice only exists inside of us.
How to describe that two tone throat singing lawnmowers do in the distance. But with extra meaning like mayonnaise making bread more sliced pudding. Depth. Sodium. Electrolytes, and heart. The thick simmering fat that feeds muscle. The doorholders. The gatekeepers. Who wedge a toe against aluminum and glass and let nutrients pass into cells. Without which, we starve, no matter how much we’ve eaten. How to describe a kid cutting grass down the road like that. I’m not writing the protein of it, it’s implicit. The meat can be heard for miles, and sound is as physical as burning gas against steel pistons smudged black, the poet isn’t concerned with that. But where is the fat. The salt. The gatekeeper. A skyscraper of sensory experience. Only no front door key. No poetry.
A young man in a backwards flat billed ball cap and shorts rested in a zero degree turning thrown leaned a little forward with his hands up like he was holding the rope, standing on water skis. The sound of it is textured bouncing between a direct arrow shot and a tree muddled echo. Never seen him before. Normally an old man in a clean red hat does that job with the absolute best riding mower money could buy in the eighties. Someone’s getting older. And everybody needs money, but not everybody has a zero point mower. The clouds are a heavy cotton backwards hat pulled low with the sun embroidered on the forehead like the logo of a sports team. The low, steady sound of the machine mirrors the buzz of bodily function and blood movement going on inside all the time. Until he clacks against quartz rock like a helicopter flying into a giant plate glass window. The day is dented. Chipped. Returns the engine, and blood starts flowing again.
How do you describe common experiences in ways that allude to their interconnection with the whole of the universe, along with some music, some fat, and salt, the good stuff, that carries the okay stuff into the cellular stuff, unblocked rotating doors and up on the forty seventh floor of the otherwise bolted closed skyscraper inside every single cellular structure. Over the blackened hearth of the microscopic fireplace that singes and smolders and captures the heat off burning calories and disseminates it throughout the house. And you don’t. You don’t describe what you hear and see with any lilt or goal or intent. You recognize. You translate. You interpret. Because the connections are already there, as real as the sources of sounds that are never seen. Air is a physical thing. Sounds are tangible as layered ripples in otherwise flat water. You’re not a poet for recognizing it. You’re honest. You’re like me. You want the rarer world.
With the fat still on it.
A thousand wrongs would be thwarted if food were a right. If we had some kind of great American dinner every night, everyone invited, working with food producers and land owners and each area making their own particular regional flavors. Doesn’t matter what is served, just that it is for everyone. An invitation into the slower moving, brick and mortar economy of agriculture, which, if we paid people not to buy combines, could employ all of us endlessly, even if base pay was just a roof and food for the next foreseeable forever. Two hundred years, maybe they’ll cure cancer. In two hundred years, maybe they’ll make that better battery. I think even a goal as simple as this could occupy a nation as great and far reaching as America: buying time.
Let’s make our goal getting our country to the end of that next two hundred with a stabilized economy, with basic necessities and vital products and services like healthcare and potable water not only treated as rights, but organized with concrete, regional, local infrastructure with manageable figures, so homelessness and unemployment are jokes in two hundred years. If we plant trees we’ll never sit in the shade of. If we take this money obsession of ours and buy our kids and their kids some time, that would be something. That’s my angle. Stop letting what I don’t know get in the way of what I do. As long as I, and everyone I know, is alive, we are going to need food, water, and shelter. Those are forever-needs. It’s listed at least three times invisibly on every block of every calendar.
Agriculture is real estate. Agriculture is neighborhoods. Downtown. Agriculture lines highways and fills otherwise empty ditches. Agriculture is Revolution. The Revolution must be an economic shadow. Funded by nature, housed in sprawling farms all across the countryside. It is no longer enough to steal from the rich to supplement the poor.
We must now steal the poor from the rich,
and give them back their selves.
Look at our way of life the way a farmer would. Pretend America is just an American farmer. It grows Americans. Maybe we lay freedom eggs or something. You don’t start selling eggs until you build enough capital to feed and house your flock of Americans regularly. You don’t demand an egg for several days and only afterward deposit fourteen days worth of pellets.
You build your coop, put a little feeder and waterer inside, and constantly clean and expand and improve, and you sustain that, often for months, before you ever see an egg.
We are paying government not to be business.
To make long term investments in us. Like feeding us, housing and guaranteeing sustenance on some kind of measured out, calendar-marked timeline. That’s not even close to socialism. That’s the short math of survival. You’ve guaranteed no one’s freedom if you have not guaranteed the resources of life. No one exists in a vacuum. A human is a complex equation, solved daily by something we call a habitat. When that habitat isn’t guaranteed, it creates a condition in the Americans in your America coop I call ‘crippled self esteem’.
Constant, low-level, background anxiety, knowing your whole way of life could go away because your boss had a bad week, or a simple, unavoidable accident, or a decision you regret. No job. Means no food. No steady housing. No free clean running creek within a hundred miles you could drink from. No sir, we made life outside the dollar impossible. You can scream socialism if that makes you feel better. But it won’t change facts.