I Know Why the Grass is Green

 

When we first met, you were fifty-three,
And not yet retired from ploughing;
Still, your itch to get out was stronger
Than the bite of briers or holly,
And the 2-for-1 gloves strong enough.

Called in from the garden, you sank
Into the sofa, a green velour piece
That needed no breaking in, steeped
As it was in smoke and grit;
You immediately felt at home.

Beside your son, stoicism failed.
You experienced his joy and purpose
As one, loving me like it was 1969,
Back when pastels were for babies,
And also for everyone else.

Once held, I met your gaze, hoping
To uncover something borrowed,
Myself reflected in your blue,
And found proof that eye color
Can skip a generation, or two.

My other inheritances include:
Your quietude in conversation,
How you walked the periphery
Of the pool, before jumping in
Good humor to ripple the room.

Your special consideration of lilies
And Queen Anne’s lace,
How you saw her in everything
That she would have loved,
And each time fell to pieces.

Your indelible softness.
How you mellowed with age,
They say, like Jell-O, or a plum
In the sun – a prune? Wrinkled,
Yes, but stronger for it.

When we last met, you were seventy-three,
And not yet retired from ploughing.

Matilda

 

Standing
on the surface
of a pancake
then, swimming
in a pool
of syrup
deep as pores
on sugar
ask:
“How much do I care about blemishes?”

More than the soul,
the body recalls
the rich sensuality
of cracking eggs,
and stirring batter;
as well as
the “not-so-feel-good-feeling”
of singed fingers
on a hot stove.
Why listen to your parents?

That’s why, or why not.
Child, experience life
with all of your senses.
Taste the lessons
that you teach yourself
first.
In all its bittersweetness,
learn
to swallow Love
like breakfast:

After the morning rush,
to locate what’s been lost.
Slowly, overprepared,
waiting for a soft boil,
into which you drop
your hard-shelled heart.

Sweet Love,
I would have you nest
in my slotted spoon,
and listen to your stories
of feeling alone,
and pancakes.

Natural Interruptions

When the Old Man fell,
it interrupted all scheduled programs,
including Britney’s 10th birthday party,
where I was one minute feeling,
to pin the tail on a donkey,
and then waiting,

to hear the sound
of a pin
falling.

Falling,
like ashes,
ashes
from the sky
in Oregon.

Fifteen years later,
children circle around me,
as if I were campfire,
to tell stories of their favorite hikes,
as if they happened yesterday.

I circle around what happened yesterday.

“Climate-Change-Fueled Wildfires
Pollute the Air, Make People Sick.
74 Acres, and Counting, Burning.”

The air thickens.

Upwards, the sky is gone.
We, too, are clouded
by emotion – Pride
in place, Resolve.

Quietly, I close my eyes.
I try to access
My Place,
My Trail,
My Childhood

interrupted, as they may be
by nature,
(the freeze and thaw)
and by choices
(to leave,

to have adventure,
to participate in activities
that exacerbate
the change).

These may have occurred
several times per year,
until the breaking point,
or in one dramatic season;
but, what difference does it make?

I have stopped trying,
to look through smoke,
to find the answer to:
“What is really happening?”
or even forecast
through the weekend.

Instead, I navigate
with the nose,
toward a little bit of sense,

smelling
for what the present
has to offer,
by way of remembrance.

When the Old Man fell,
it fell on our plates,
of pizza and cake.
It stopped Britney’s mom
from slicing.
Leaving just enough
for one slice per child

– no seconds for anyone –

except I,
who grabbed two slices of pizza,
and two slices of cake,
because I was afraid.

Father’s Day

Oh, what a day
to get out
with the sun
no, not up
that too easy
waking is
very normal and very common
an action that requires no will
unlike working
which 66% do at-will
in exchange for small change
and less development of skill
that too hard
treating people like people is
very abnormal and very uncommon

On Sundays,
father gets out
just for fun
no, not church
that too easy
praying is
very close to talking on the phone
with someone who takes efficiency
…very seriously…
like his boss’s boss
or the call out with a sick kid
in exchange for 2 days of rest
counting Sunday
except this one
being a holiday

I get out
despite rain clouds
in spite of depression
because I get it
how my burned daylight
could be conflated
with disrespect
for parents who work
for every father in my lineage
especially Dad
who still puts in overtime
for no pay
but the security
that his job is safe
thereby his house is safe
should there ever come
a sick kid
knocking
to come in.

Shilo

Shilo belongs to a protected category of person,
the kind that must be managed so as to preserve
its natural condition, to appear unaffected by the
forces of nature, and the imprint of man’s work,
afforded at least five thousand acres for solitude.

At first brush, it seemed probable we’d be lovers.
She had me feeling all-American and free, shout-
singing: “Girl, this land was made for you n’ me”
and all other beasts of the Northern Nevada wild,
where the desert is high and dry and exposed, not
so low and wet and closed as where I come from.

“What brings you here, to these parts?” should be
easy — a basic exchange of creative nonfiction —
and I’ve heard that it gets better, but when you’re
queer and a woman probes for your preference of
parts, it’s imperative to leave the door open some,

So you say something like “Where I come from is
called the River Valley, green and fertile and deep,
with mountains on both sides, thrusting up toward
the sky. Your land has dimples and mounds in all
the right-familiar places; it reminds me of home.”

Shilo showed me the Playa in June, before Burners
came to boogie and burn, and we scribbled crayon-
portraits of each other, our busts against a backdrop
that could have passed for the surface of the moon.
She drew me in — in an extraterrestrial style — soft

-shelled egg of a head, floating on a band of gold
dust that was literally black (as her tip of charcoal)
but, for better symbolism, I remember in gold.

Blue Collar, Khaki Pants: The Making of a Wal-Mart Man [Essay]

    My father’s father was born into the callused hands of a vegetable farmer who groomed him for a life of labor. Till the land. Sow the seed. Don’t have me tell you twice. Cuff ‘side the head. In that day and age, wives were bred to capacity; four daughters plus five sons equaled eighteen hands, full.

    My father was born into tar, feathers, and chicken poop, on the cracked-corn floorboards of a coup. His weekends were oriented around the achievement of three objectives: (1) slit the throat;  (2) pluck the feathers; (3) sell sell sell. Kennett boys have always been goal-oriented and strong, but shy, as if handmade cogs for other men’s machines.

   As a young man, Brad had grander aspirations than shoveling shit, so he saved his coins for education and adventure. When his cap hit the ground, he vowed to hit the road and drive, just drive, as many miles from that piss-poor town as his leaking gas tank could stand to propel him. At nineteen, he descended the stairs with an announcement caught in his throat. Mama, I want wings. Let me go to Kitty Hawk. I’ll come back a pilot, a professional, dressed in pleated pants and soot-shined shoes, the works.

   In her solar system, motherhood was the sun; with an empty nest, Patty felt about as useful as a heart singing to an empty chest. But, with four celestial bodies, could she not spare just one? She could and, ten years later, brother and sisters would be scattered, like marbles across an ever-expanding dugout. As mothers know, and youngest sons do not, the baby is precious and rare. Patty refused to barter with her cat’s eye, so Brad stayed home, and made a baby of his own.

   A single father, with a baby on his hip, will take the first job he can get. In 1992, when the machine shop closed its doors for good, Wal-Mart was our godsend. They offered eight dollars an hour, plus benefits, and a whopping 25% discount on edible merchandise. Looking back, I imagine they must have known that we were starving; the frugal fisherman baits with his baseline when the fish have no choice but to bite. In 1992, when formula became the new liquid gold, Wal-Mart was our godsend.

   Like a crop circle, the store seemed to materialize overnight, in a lot that had been empty for ten years, matted over with clover and crab grass. No one had seen them coming, especially to a town so modest but, when the higher-ups issued a press release, they thanked the community for its warm welcome, and insisted that the pleasure was theirs. A wise man once told me: “Never throw your filet into a hot pan without butter.” Looking back, I imagine they must have known that one too.

   The grand opening was an affair of local acclaim, grander even than our town-wide yard sale. When I close my eyes, a void lies where the miniature horse is supposed to be but, at least, we captured it in a snapshot. Upstairs, in the tackle box where photos go, my father and I are posing with four men in fresh-pressed suits. When my father tells this story, he uses m words: meet-and-greet, mingling, mustaches, mind-wash. From the periphery, it appeared a carnival, with popcorn and bouquets of smiling balloons, but that was before he learned how much Wal-Mart spends, and can afford to spend, on maintenance control.

   In his first year of employment, Store #1975 hosted a half-dozen public relations events. As a natural introvert, playing grill master at sidewalk barbeques did not lie within his comfort zone. Yet, Brad was a good ol’ boy and everyone knew it. The customers loved his crooked smile and salty sarcasm but, most of all, loved that he was someone they could imagine grabbing a beer with. He accumulated more sunny ‘hellos’ than could be counted, drafted a mental list of his favorites and, slowly, human interaction became comfortable, even fun. The big boss took notice. In April 1993, one year following Sam Walton’s death in Little Rock, Arkansas, Brad was granted reign over Lawn & Garden. Not bad for the son of a butcher.

   The shark lures the minnow into its mouth by pretending to be a cave, a home. In 1998, Wal-Mart introduced The Neighborhood Market, a small-concept model designed to emulate the experience of shopping in a mom-and-pop grocery store. Ten years later, the corporation began aggressively expanding this division, pitching their growth as an altruistic attempt to increase food access in urban communities. The most rewarding element of working for Wal-Mart, Brad tells me, are the opportunities for employees to “give back.” In the time I have known him, he has shown sympathy for few social movements, but food justice hits where his heart lies. At home. My father was born into a home with cobwebs in the cupboards, raised on peanut butter n’ mustard sandwiches and, sometimes, on nothing. Throughout my childhood, our holidays were spent volunteering at local food banks and soup kitchens, stuffing cavities at the Annual Thanksgiving Turkey Drive and, of course, serving steaks fresh off the sidewalk. Those were sentimental days for the both of us, though he never said as much, his restrained tears told me so. As a boy, the companionship of neighborhood kids helped Brad feel full. As a boy, he promised they would “get out” together but, with only four major employers, steady work does not not come easily. So, as a man, Brad lent his hands, choking up every time he filled the empty mouth of a friend.

   A wise man, my father once told me: “Never bite the hand that feeds you.” Sometimes, when he’s feeling cynical, Brad has to remind himself that Wal-Mart does “good work.” They have become the nation’s largest grocer, stocking more pantries than Stop N Shop, Hannaford or Food Lion. He has to remind himself that they stock his pantry too. There aren’t enough mom-and-pops to feed America and, even if there were, Wal-Mart would drive them into the ground. He has to forget to remember this. When I fled the nest, he accepted the salary position that they had been grooming him for and, as he ascended the ladder, a broader picture came into view. “At the top,” he says, “they do not care about people, they care about demographics, market trends and, most of all, money.” When my father tells this story, he drops “corporate greed” by the dozen. From the inside, he still sees a carnival, with popcorn and smiling balloons but, differently somehow. This year, he will work sixty hour weeks during the holiday season, and make penance at the turkey drive.