A line of cursive S’s creeps across
the brown face of a grocery bag
before the day of paper or plastic.
The line drips ink from the tip of a ballpoint pen, in a kitchen under the rhythm rain of gray day clouds tapping on the roof, on a table strewn with groceries from the commissary at cut rates that still barely make the way for a family always in a frenzy of feeding, a family with five boys pummeling each other on schedule like the trains that travel over the tracks that the family seems to be on, the train going in the same direction. Nothing stopping, no new passengers, no new stations, just the same small milk run each day week month year. What was he wearing at the kitchen table the small brown boy not yet school age, not yet knowing what letters mean but mimicking the shape and slope of them drawn in a line on the brown face of the brown bag by the brown hand?
But that story’s been told. Ever notice how the same story comes up over and over again from the same brain of the insane. Nothing but the same story and the same meaning. Nothing but the brown hand and the brown bag’s face and nothing new on the words that get said, like a prayer or a magic incantation. Like that’s supposed to bring something to life that died a long time ago. Like the boy. He doesn’t exist anymore. He had a nice run and now it’s over. Now he has a son taller than he is and he has no stories to tell anymore. Nothing that anyone wants to hear. Well, aren’t we feeling sorry for ourselves this evening. Poor us with no one to listen because we don’t have anything to say.
Sorry. A word.
This bores even me. Well, what wouldn’t? What about words still makes you feel excited?
A clock ticks. It measures what could become music. Sick. Sounds. Muses. Muse. A sympathy in the soul that tells something. The click of these keys that sounds like a dance, Gregory Hines or Savion Glover. Click, tick. Music. A muse. Amusing. Losing snoozing, choosing. Something in the choosing that we don’t do but that gets done to us.
Ok. Here’s how it works. You begin with a word. Any word. “Plow” let’s say, and you follow the furrow that it leaves in it’s wake. It leads you somewhere. To a farm, to the black-brown earth of the prairie days on the Kansas plains, where the sky does all the telling about what kind of day it will be. Not the mountains, not the sea, not the motions in the trees. All the telling gets done by the sky, through it’s messenger, the wind. The wind sends along everything that’s going to be needed during the day. Everything you need to know, the wind will be telling you, but you better listen, because if you don’t, then the world around you will suddenly have a different color and you didn’t see it coming. Gray to lime green. Or blue to black. Or light blue white to red and orange. Fire hanging from the clouds as though the sky were raging at day’s end.
A wheat field at the end of the street, where the concrete dead-ends and rows of earth clumped into clods have scattered themselves after the plow’s passage, after the field has been disced and the ground has dried and the dirt clumps have the consistency of rock, can burst open a lip or the side of a head. On the prairie, the wind tells all the stories, in whispers or shrieks or slow songs. The plow lines even as though they will run to the end of the earth. Tree lines in their feeble stands supposed to keep the wind from carrying away the soil skinned by the plow.
He passed years under the tyranny of the wind and learned to hear warnings in some of its songs. Southwest winds with their black floating anvils swelling in afternoon heat.
This evening the words have come slowly to me hee hee the wee mind of the man thinking about what words will come next. They really don’t like to be told what to do. So the fingers slip and click along the path furrowed by the plow that his words have made, the cutting edge of where the the swearing of the new life of the new knife the knew knife the knife that knew where it would cut before the man who wielded it could place it on the skin of the earth and divine where it could should leave it’s mark. And that’s where I find myself trying to fathom the depth of the mark I should make and not to know where the cuts will fall or where they will leap up into the air. Not knowing what direction they will go because they tell you nothing these words. And you’re expected to trust them. They meet you in the alley with the raincoat buttoned up tight and the rain is falling in a wet drizzle so you can’t see anything because you have to keep wiping your glasses. You weren’t made for weather like this if you have to wear glasses. And the words call you into the alley, not even out of the rain and promise you something shiny if you’re willing to pony up a small amount just for a little look-see. So being the rube you are you say yes and empty your pocket and it says, “Sorry, not enough.” So you go to the money machine and take out some more and when you get back to the corner no one is there, which means you’ve lost the initial investment. But each time you come back to the street, you see the word waiting for you.
No it’s nothing like that. Because you do get to see the thing you’ve paid the money for if you keep coming back. But you better not have any expectation because if you do, you won’t see anything. The page turns blank with your expectations and only fills with you willingness to swing low over the pulp and things rise up behind you, like a wave that follows, like the wake that marks the path of the plow after it’s passed, and that’s how you know it’s been there. The riches it turns up in the mark that it makes, the deepness of the color, the darkness and the glimmer of richness against the dark where minerals are feeding the soil. But you have to turn it over, you have to dig it up, which means you have to love the dirt, because if you’re looking for diamonds, then you won’t see that you’ve got rich bottomland that can keep you fed for years, for eons, if you’re willing to plow the same field, keep turning the earth and mining the dark depth of it. The worms keep it alive. They’re way more valuable that diamonds. All the things you can’t see that break down all the things you can, that crawl with the patience of all the offal you throw on a pile and mix with straw and water and time so that you can grow whatever you want.
You pile the words and feed them and spread them on the plowed earth. Compost. Words are like compost and like soil and like nothing you expect and like nothing so much as time that won’t let you do anything until it’s ready.
All writing is waiting.
Waiting for the time to come to say it. To say whatever’s been waiting for you to get patient enough to say without thinking you came up with it and you’re some kind of genius or know something. It was lying fallow in the words all those years, waiting for you to turn them in your ordinary, plowing-the-field, preparing-the-soil way. The only way you ever get to find out anything that’s worth saying. Like it’s yours. Like it came from you. Like you know shit in the first place that you ever could get to language to do something rather than let it be willing to tell you what it wants to say. Like the language was ever anything but what needed to be said waiting for it’s time to speak.
Writing is waiting. Saying nothing and you say something, then saying something until you say something worth saying because you’ve finally been smart enough to know that anything ever said has said itself. For god’s sake, learn to close your mouth. Shut up and plow.