on endings

Endings.

I love them, for their chutzpah, their cheek. For how they march in all puffed up and mighty and then stumble over a humble truth or two and pause—undone, disrobed—to gently gather the fraying threads of whatever came before into one tidy bundle of ‘done’.

I love endings for how they insist that we pause, too, right in the midst of the full helter skelter, to make some uneasy sense of the lot before hurtling onward again. I love endings for how un-endlike they are, how merciless, how unstoppable. How made up, how impossible, how irrevocably and eternally human and undone. Who would we be without such concoctions as these?

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on bein’ born on the wrong end of a slide guitar (until now)

I was born and raised in southern Mississippi by two people who got religion hard when I turned four. Music was huge in our lives, which made the Church of God and life bearable, but only gospel music was allowed (and only a cappella in church/no instruments) unless my daddy had backslid (which I used to pray he would, disconcerting the very hell out of god, I was pretty sure most Sundays, but it actually worked once in a while so was worth it), and then we’d get to listen to the Grand Ol’ Opry on the porch after dark. I didn’t know rock and roll existed until late in high school, and that is just as well.

Then in my teens, we got a new school bus driver whose name here I won’t spell out since he’s probably still alive and wouldn’t want the credit, but he drove a Corvette (and eventually two, one gold and one silver, as I recall) and played guitar in a local band, and when he stopped for us at 6 a.m. every morning, we’d climb up on those stairs to Dickey Betts belting out what I decided was a fine anthem (“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man”). It was easy on my ears and soothed my troubled soul all the way to school and back.

I never heard the opening to this Fillmore East concert or Duane Allman caress that guitar with that slide until fifteen minutes ago. My husband, born and raised by Baptists, who everybody knows get a better deal of living out of every last day (and night), is introducing me to all the music he knew then and I didn’t. He just played this concert for me. I never heard it as a teen. That’s just as well, too, because I can tell you this much today. If I’d’ve heard “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” in the 1970s? I would’ve just given up and gone on to sinnin’ right then and there and thus saved myself a decade of trouble and misspent prayers.

on curmudgeons and visions

The night is ringed with coyote calls as the moon trudges up the sky, steely silver in the cold and patient.

We made it to our favorite farm market yesterday for the first time in a month, work having eased enough to allow such normalcies again. I entered the doorway glad to be back, eagerly thinking ahead to what might be on offering in the small shop: fresh moringa or sourdough bread and bundles of drying rosemary? New heavy pumpkins? Pea sprouts and kale and four kinds of beets? Oranges and lemons and apples hardly bigger than my nose, so organic they show the normal signs of wear any vegetable does when not dosed up with toxins? The space is small and human, with plenty of room to turn around in the aisles and not run over someone else, a corner set aside for cooking demonstrations and another for sitting and visiting, and the whole place—inside and out—is dotted with happy, living herbs and flowers in big pots.

I treasure my time in this shop, look forward to it as some might do to sporting events and loud music. Things here make sense to me. The owner is always happy to see us, and shows it. She and her partner run a nearby 100-acre farm on which they grow many of the vegetables and fruits. The other products are carefully chosen, hand-selected for quality and health benefits, and the owners proudly serve samples of whatever’s fresh and in season.

Today, she looked up as we came in, and I greeted her happily. We’d missed her, I said it, and then added, “And how are things treating you?” It’s a normal greeting for me, like ‘How are you’ but more down home. She nodded, but did not meet my eyes, and I knew in an instant something was all wrong. She looked down for a long moment, shaken, and I, suddenly alert to something but with no clue what, managed an “Oh no. Are you all right?”

Silences tune up your senses for listening. The room went still. It turns out that her partner died a few days ago after a short illness. We hugged her and stood as she pieced it together and I finally began registering the small changes since last time: there were two photos of him on shelves behind the counter, and handmade signs announcing a potluck in memorial after the first of the year.

She was the one I’d always enjoyed seeing most. He was a medical doctor and so keen on the health benefits of food that, whenever he was about, he’d walk down the aisles with us, re-stocking bins while lecturing us on each item we considered. I always figured he viewed me as a philistine, for I’d once asked for spinach and he shook his head from the other side of the room and made a beeline for me with a fervent ten-minute lecture on how bad it was for my system and what pea sprouts could offer instead. Concerned (clearly) that I might not’ve gotten the message, he came back a couple times with more nutritional notes: all the passion of a preacher, I thought then and ever since, but with considerably more information and science in the sermon. The doc, as everybody called him, was a curmudgeon for organic foods, fair trade, and good non-pharmaceutical industried health products. Still, I happen to like spinach, and all the science in the world isn’t likely to change that, and I can be a bit of a curmudgeon myself all told. So while I respected him greatly, she was the one I liked, the one I looked forward to seeing most of all. He was entertaining, a true desert denizen, brilliant and fierce, but she was the one I liked, the one with constant small kindnesses for me every time I entered the market.

As she spoke of his passing to us yesterday, though, I remembered back to the first time I’d ever set foot in their shop and I offered the story to her: she was cutting watermelon slices for samples in the back, and I’d paid for my veggies and walked to the café next door to sit outside and just be. The doc made a beeline for me, coming out the door of their shop to my table a couple minutes later and handing me one perfect slice of watermelon. My favorite food on the planet, bar none. He was a curmudgeon, yes, but a dear and unique soul. Stewart remembered the spinach lecture (he’d had his own) and other samples and the attention to detail that the doc put into even the smallest product they carried. And finally she smiled, us too, as we looked about anew at the hand-picked, fair-trade coffees and lip balms, tinctures and homebaked healthy treats, that ever-changing array of whatever veggies are in season or being nurtured in cold frames and greenhouses—the results of the eccentric vision of a curmudgeon and his partner and their years of hard work and giving.

And now he’s gone. The shop, just as tastefully arranged and welcoming as ever, felt a bit empty and larger and so sad. She will go on, it is clear, she’s determined. This was, as she put it with hand gestures, her part of their work. The gardens, the finding and researching and getting of the special olive oils and coffees and teas, were his. She has help for some of it and is now learning the rest. She is meeting his suppliers and distributors for the moringa they grew on the farm. She will go on. Their vision for organic, fairly priced vegetables for desert folk like us will go on. The market will thrive.

It has to. As Stewart and I walked up and down the aisles, quieter and choosing more things than usual, we were vowing (without words, only a shared look or two) to come regularly now and not skip weeks for work anymore. Other people came in and she helped them. And then she showed up with a fresh, newly washed and stemmed, home-cultivated strawberry for each of us, drops of water still on the skin of her hands as she passed us these singular treats, and I remember the watermelon and that day three years ago and the curmudgeonly doctor who cared enough about our health to walk amongst us and share his knowledge, his passion, whether we wanted it or not.

He didn’t seek medical attention at the end, she said, not wanting to surrender to the killing treatments contemporary medicine sells for serious illness. He simply lived to his last day, and then passed away in the night. When it comes my time to go, I hope I have that much courage. And can manage to go out a curmudgeon. Vision intact to the end.

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on blossoms and cobwebs here and somewhere ahead

Last dream upon waking to grade: I was in Texas with work to do and places to go pronto. But every day at 3 p.m. I would pause down by a highway overpass to watch a long convoy of white utility-sided pickups loaded with 20-foot tall cones of pink blossoms roll by. The blooms blew like clouds off the cones for a mile, and it was such a sight that I would go about town gathering strangers to come with me to see. Day after day we went there to watch, never knowing the kind of flower or the trucks’ destination. Beauty here and somewhere ahead, that’s all we knew. Here and somewhere ahead.

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Clearly, no matter how worrisome or tiresome existence gets beneath the boot heels of late-modern crumbling capitalism, there is always at least one mystery unfolding nearby. If a soul can manage to ease into the slipstream of that and draft for a part of each trip around the sun? Even the boot heels may lose some force, just enough anyway that a fleeting glimpse can be stolen of the road here and ahead. Here and somewhere ahead.

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on revenuers, thought police, and steely hearts

Last dream upon waking to grade: running from the revenuers through the cold, wet Mississippi woods with my mother, hell-bent on making it to the last rise to stop them overrunning our farm, after having raced through the house of collapsing chifferobes searching for a coat and a place to hide my children and my book on Nazi history from the thought police who were expected to make a visit to my grandmother’s house that day. There was thunder and sopping-wet waist-high ferns and so many children and Mama’s mama making choked-off biscuits in her giant wooden bowl and not seeming to notice the ruckus or our deer alerting on the troops heading our way on the double, and that one big heavy book. Treasured because it was the only one the thought police had left us from last time.

BuckDreams clean up reality. My mother is dead. Her mother is dead. Neither woman’s house was ever home to a collapsing piece of any kind of furniture or untidiness of any sort. Were either woman alive in such a situation, we wouldn’t be running to hide something, because they’d be standing at the driveway with rifles at the ready and the look in their eyes and every line of their bodies saying they’d just as soon shoot you as look at you, just dare you lay one toe across that line, and they’d do that without either woman ever having to utter a word out loud. I—their weenie offspring who has believed in and practiced nonviolence all my adult life (at great personal cost)—would be standing alongside them. The women in my family hit what they aim at. So, tell me this: Why in the hell are we letting the thought police shake down our whole world?

0197Clearly I am worried about how we’re all being muzzled to speak only whatever authorities nearby can stomach. Clearly I am unnerved by how many of us no longer speak up at all. Clearly I don’t believe (never have, never will) that a society can remain healthy if it has to throw all its horsepowers against dissent and difference and those who have outright questions about the gig’s present givens. Clearly I am sickened by how many good people are being put through the wringer at jobs that break them and don’t pay the bills, yet they must still censor every word for fear of losing even that. Clearly I’m fed up with those who have everything attacking those who have nothing and every living being on the planet to fill their coffers, with not just the blessing of the nation state but the aid of its weapons and g-men and -women out front. Clearly I’m uneasy about the state of learning and knowledge and civic memory in this era of buy-a-degree universities and the CEO-ization of all education (for the latter tolls death knells for critical inquiry and debate that are so necessary for a healthy body politic). Clearly I feel a cold night looming ahead for us all, if I’ve been driven to seeing the varnish peeling off the beautiful, sturdy chifferobes of my childhood, their contents in disarray and sheltering no coat or even sweater anymore, their legs and doors askew, splintering and nearly down, and no place to hide my book.

0198So I’m happy for dreams that speak truth to power and remind me of my raising and those parts of Mississippi that no one should ever do without. As my grandmother always put it, “I’ve got a backbone of steel and a heart to match.” Steely hearts, I once thought, were overkill. Wasn’t the backbone enough and couldn’t the heart be left supple and soft, amenable to change? Steely hearts care too much and are subject to outright disintegration in high heat. Weren’t they likely to just turn bitter or sour themselves? These were the roving thoughts of a dreamer who had not yet bumped noggins with reality hard enough. Someone who refused to pick up a weapon and stand at the driveway even when one was required, called for in the clarion tones of eternity. That was then. This is now. Now I know better.

Buck 2Steely hearts are much needed at this moment, for the revenuers and thought police are no longer at the door. They’re inside us.