Monday, July 4, 2011

High cotton

I'm sitting under a gray Jersey sky, watching the robins cock their heads as they traverse the wet lawn, listening for worms. The oak-leave hydrangeas bow under the weight of their white blossoms, the St. John's wort has grown three times the size it was last year, and the sedum I just transplanted is thriving in the silver maple's shade. A big chipmunk munches the soft middle out of daisy blossoms. A couple of weeks ago I saw a groundhog strip the bark off the base of the three-year-old river birch on the far side of the slate patio. I set out a couple of traps, but only caught a raccoon. I let her go and she ran back to her brood under Sweet Lou's shed.

The catbirds have gone -- my neighbors trimmed the underbrush by the creek, upsetting the nest. A mixed blessing. I admire these fearless loud birds, but they behaved like they owned the yard and drove the other birds away. Today, in the morning quiet, I miss them. The light blue-gray clematis has wrapped itself entirely around the trellis, those ecstatic tendrils.

None of this is mine. I don't know to whom it belongs. There aren't any gods in this part of New Jersey, and the rule of law only pertains to relations between humans. I'm not smart enough to suss out Nature's laws, though I remember a few of them from my school days. Force = mass x acceleration. Newton's apple, Galileo's feather. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. The hypotenuse equals the square root of the sum of the squares of the other two sides of a triangle. The sun neither rises nor sets, the earth spins. The speed of light is a constant -- 186K miles per second -- and nothing can go faster. G, B, and D form the tonic chord in the G major scale. Chlorophyll enables plants to photosynthesize light. When you hit somebody hard, they cry and bruise. When you lose somebody, you lose them forever.

I daydream for a spell -- some days this green world merely seems a prelude to death. Last night, a group of delinquent teens played with cherry bombs and roman candles over by the little lake. The humid air filled with the smell of gunpowder. Dogs barked, car horns bleated, the jobless and disaffected danced around their bonfires shrieking. Wearing mad masks for a few minutes' relief from their dull routines. Hot dogs, cheap steaks, mealy corn, burgers, soda pop, cans of Bud. They're out there in the morning picking up the trash.

The groundhog has spared one echinacea and one black-eyed susan. The rest he's clipped down to the very stem. Sometimes I want to kill him. Other times, I simply grieve for my lost blooms -- who am I to counter Nature's laws? He eats what he eats -- he can't help himself, just like most humans, excluding the saints. I turn on the radio, Janis Joplin singing "Summertime."
The cotton is high. Baby baby baby no don't you cry. These people, take away their appetites and you're left with vast uninteresting legions of zombies. They chatter about the weather, television shows, traffic, prices, their weight, their teeth. Exercise routines, celebrity gossip. First they tell you where they're going, then they go, then they tell you where they've been. It all sounds the same. Yellowstone, the Smokies, Disney World, Cape Cod, the French Quarter. It's their country and the livin is easy.

If you flat the dominant fifth in in a twelve-bar blues, those little nerves in your groin will go gaga. You'll sniff sex everywhere in the wet garden. The dogwood straining against its guidelines, the spreading rose-of-sharon, the fragrant fading blossoms on the upper limbs of the sweetbay magnolia. I'm sitting here, daydreaming. And for a few blessed minutes I don't worry what it means that it's Independence Day today.

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