Things that Are
(Milkweed Editions)This place where I live now puts me in mind of the back-country ways of the deep South where I grew up ... although the trees here are more coarse, sparse (in north Florida country they were full-shady and restful).
But the pockmarked land is the same: the dust and the sallow fences constructed from trash trees (what they call here "güisache," often sprouting anew out of the raggedy poles cut and pared to carry a thin triple load of barbed wire). Behind these fences are the shacks that rest uneasily with their black corrugated roofs, huts appearing to be troubled by the land itself, wasting away like the very earth, huts with rebar sprouting out of the cement supports like a second growth, just waiting another lift, a second life, a second chance.
And the people forever walking the dusty way from their houses down the narrow ramble-road a mile or so to stop in at the storefront home store to get their daily ration of the local version of TastyCakes --- called "Bimbo" --- and the Coke and tortillas and rice and beans. The road is a hotel, filled with folk and cows and goats and strewn with dogs always the dogs using the road as a sleeping bag.
At the end of the day, always the old women hobbling down the road, their legs like ... ( ) ... with huge bundles of firewood packed on their backs, the abuelitas stooped over, day after day, their sticks bound together with a thin string, the old too poor to even have a burro, the oldest of the women carrying a few day's supply of firewood.
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The 'collectivos' are invariably 1995 Nissan trucks with their bare wooden slab seats, under a blue and tattered tarp, five or or ten or thirteen people, two or three hanging onto the frail ropes tied over the back step, paying their five pesos to ride a mile or two, the drivers not fearing (no insurance company or lawyers to sue them), the passengers hanging from the back like grapes on the vine or children packed on a swing.
All to go a few kilometers back to their single-slab-side concrete block gray homes, the sun and the dogs and goats and cows and horses on the road, all living together as it has been for 1000 or 2000 or 5000 or 20,000 years, animals and humans packed together, as they live and sleep together if only to keep themselves warm with "the stupendous full moon," the moon that my newest favorite author Amy Leach, in Things That Are, calls "My Little Honeybee:" "For an idea of how long your light takes to reach Earth, sing one line from a song, such as 'Sail on, my little honeybee' and that is how long moonlight takes."
So fast moons slow down and slow moons speed up, and only during excerpts of time do planetary dalliances appear permanent. Our moon through many excerpts --- the Moon --- is a slow moon. Thus it is speeding up, thus it is falling up, coming off like a wheel, at one and a half inches per year. Let us now reflect upon the Moon, for the Moon has long reflected upon us.
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They called Things That Are "Essays," but I doubt that is the right word. Poetry would probably be better. Not endstopped, but with a rhythm and a choice of words that elevates the language. Language about what? Well, beavers, and the moon, and goats ("Sometimes it avails to be a goat"), lillies, salmon, turtles, buttercups, sirens (both the noisy-street and the sailor variety), love-in-idleness, love-in-a-mist, love-bind --- these last three being plants or, more commonly, weeds, that have properties that you might want to know about.
This is how she starts, in the chapter named "Love,"
In the year 3,000,002,013 the Andromeda Galaxy may collide with our Milky Way. At first this sounds miserable, like a collision of two bird flocks. But galaxy members fly farly, not tip to tip. In a galactic collision the stars do not actually collide --- as with crisscrossing marching bands, only the interstices collide. (Oh to be like a galaxy, to mingle without wrecking. But then we would have to be composed of so much more sky.) The spaces between stars are so wide that thousands of galaxies have to converge before the stars will crash.
Note the made up word ..."farly." Note the amiable juxtapositions: bird flocks ... galaxies ... marching bands. Note the joyous imagery ("composed of so much sky.") Note the number: not three billion but 3,000,002,013. Note the sly aside, "Oh to be like a galaxy, to mingle without wrecking." Note the tone: wide-eyed, scientific but warm, gentle but good. Finally Leach gets to her three plants ... one, our favorite, and obviously hers, Love-Lies-Bleeding:
The tassel flower, also known as love-lies bleeding, is assigned to garden borders not only because it is tasselly but also because it can be trusted to stay wherever it is planted, to not redeploy itself. Love-lies-bleeding accepts the purposes of Horticulture. In contrast, if you decide to border your garden with fairies or bluebirds, they will escape their appointment as only the rootless can. They are in truth two ways to escape: the bluebird way and the dandelion way. Bluebirds defect, like bubbles and luck. Dandelions, on the other hand, escape like secrets: sprawlingly. Plant a dandelion border around your garden and soon your garden will be a dandelion fair.
Again: a couple of home-made words. Funny pairings ("bubbles and luck.") The gently parental note ("it can be trusted to stay wherever it is planted.") The all-over wonder-and-sly-observation ("escape like secrets: sprawlingly.") This is a writer who knows words (and knows the world) and manages --- how does she do it? --- not to overdo it.
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Ms Leach has a nigh about perfect ear, plus a tremendous vocabulary ... can turn a simple disquisition into a funny ride, whether it is underwater with the beavers, around halos ("Halos cannot be affixed to the head with pins and clips"), or running with the dingoes. Dingoes appear in the chapter on goats and Pinta Island, wherever that may be. The goats ate the tree ferns and the turtles, who used the ferns for food, disappeared. People say that dingoes should be imported to eat the goats, Trouble is, to get rid of the dingoes, one would have to bring in crocodiles. And to be rid of the crocodiles, we'd have to import hippopotamuses from "across the ocean and set them loose to squash everything, a stable but sad climax."
Finally, there are guns, a moment of violence intruding on our kind essay on goats ... but Leach being Leach manages to leach the violence from it, by turning it aside:
Some tortoise advocates just shoot the goats from helicopters. If it seems like the noise would bother the tortoises, it does not ---such innocents do not know a bang-bang from a ding-dong.
The miracle here, and I assert this writing is a miracle of taste and joy (and joy in the taste) is that what could so easily turn sappy and sentimental always always manages --- don't ask me how --- to evade that pot of pother (see, she's making me write like her) so that these 200 pages never turn saccarine, and still she often comes up with (in the midst of the balmy words) surprising scientific or historical facts: that one 17th century pope declared beavers to be fish; that in our solar system there are 169 moons; that the stars were sometimes known as "fireflakes;" and that they are "as transitory as snowflakes only their transitoriness is protracted."
And you and me? We are "molecule trustees."
The sun and all of us are molecule trustees, administering the molecules entrusted to us until they are passed on. Like any trustee we do not own the property, nor do we decide who will receive what we stewarded. It might be somebody grumpy like Xanthippe.
From time-to-time we grump that we here at RALPH are limited to one star. In our table of contents, books that the editors feel "vaut le voyage" appear with one tiny star at their side. It is at times like this we would like to offer, instead, in this particular case, at least five heartily burning fireflakes.--- Lolita Lark