I have no idea where the sky goes at night, or the dark by day. I do know I am dying, as we all are one day, one night or the next followed by all the other days and nights bequeathed to us. I no longer know, but it would be good to know firsthand again, before the sun is gone and the moon's light goes out, the love bodies make when I want to be so warm I would have her feel what I do and she does, whomever she may be if she arrives or if I find her home.
I am going out today to buy a malamute to keep me company, the kind of dog I have wished I would have befriended when I was its age now. As it was, I loved the sheep dog, Tippy, I named for the white streak on the very end of its tail; the black one my father named Nig and told me outright, before I asked, that the dog's name was short for "nigger."
I knew my father was reared among people known as "poor whites," and I thought: He was so young to learn all of the fear and hatred that his own father taught him was wrong with his world, and my father believed it was so until moving north and west and homesteading in a valley, where growing up it dawned on me that the lessons his father taught him, whose spell he came to hate and drove away, were a part of what I would come to believe was at the heart of the hell on earth that humanity suffered then and now and no one knows how long the earth itself will survive human greed, the sickness invariably working hand in glove with human cruelty.
Also, there was the female collie puppy, whose name my mother remembered all the while she was still alive, for she too saw the little one she named Sala--don't ask me why . . . saw her dash through the rows of grapevines we were pruning and on the dirt road running beside the vineyard the car meaning to pass did pass, but only after killing Sala, and unlike the others--the truck and car whose drivers stopped to pick up the dead and take them, with me, home--this car left Sala in the dust without stopping, speeding up so no one in our family would ever know the driver's name. Also, beside that road was the ditch where Rosie Milton, little sister of a band of rowdy boys . . . the ditch where her body was found outstretched and her throat cut.
At least the quiet girl screwing the kid from the reformatory farm, Buoyville, did not die, at least not then, and she might have gone on to grow into the woman and he into the man, to become what they would need to be if this American romance had not been dashed by the eighth grade teacher cum football coach, who followed them one afternoon and caught them making love--fucking I heard it called it then, when I was nothing more than a candy-ass. He caught them humping, as I later heard, in the boxcar by the flour mill on the outskirts of town. She never came back to school, nor did he. I learned a lot of valuable things from him--cursewords mainly, which he called cusswords. I had learned them when we were binding library books, and somehow he knew I wrote stories, though he never said how. I found that from the librarian, one of the lady teachers who listened to what I wrote from the fourth grade on; she told him and then told me what she said ("I know stories I could write, too"), but only after he was caught being happy and making the girl happy in the only place and in the only way they could.
As for me, what did I do? Arose at four and cut asparagus until eight, when I went off to school, and when the school year ended, Joe Esparza hired Jess Maltos and me to work by ourselves his asparagus field from four until noon, and afterward we plunged into the city pool, then slept where our mothers kept their houses quiet so we would not wake until dusk. After asparagus came a cycle of harvests in orchards growing cherries, apricots, peaches, and we worked with all of them. Picking cherries in a bucket hanging from the strap around the neck, we learned to use the ladders the owners called spikes, which reached as high as the limb strong enough to hold the where we needed to strip the tree; but first we leaned the spike against the limb and climbed a step at a time until we knew the ladder could bear our youthful weight, and then near the top we tied the ladder to the branch we believed would hold us, and if we were wrong we probably would not try again, though as it happened we were not only young but lucky. And to end each day we yarded out the full boxes of cherries under the trees, stacking them so they could be moved quickly to the beds of the trucks--usually two, sometimes only one--when the drivers arrived early next morning to haul the cherries off to the plant to be processed, it was called, before our next day began as the sun was still rising.
Then we thinned apricots and plums so that what remained would grow to a size large enough to be acceptable for market, and the rest of the mob of greening fruit we let fall to the ground. Then we picked the apricots, but never the plums; we could not do everything in a late spring, summer, and sometimes early fall. Next came the peaches, the pears, and finally the apples, which we picked later, staying out of school to work that last harvest of the valley's fruit, for by then we were going to college, you see.
Those were years I worked--in fact, managed with Jess's help to fill empty boxcars with hundred pound sacks of spuds, they were called--in the potato warehouse where I met Irene, who was younger than I, but with her I--we--shared first love, or so I learned to call it after those days ended. Because we learned to love from each other, we wanted to marry, but she stayed to finish school and I went off to college, which put the Cascades between us, and when I could no longer find her anywhere in the valley, I remained on the other side of the mountains, in that city on the edge of the waters of the Pacific, and there I began a new life, though the old life lingered inside somewhere during my days and nights until I found a woman who has never left me, at least not to stay.
The rest of my days were devoted to learning why I am here to do what you may call art, even though I don't because, to me, it is only writing, and it never makes claims on me that the best writing I know always involves. But that may be because I seem to take life too lightly now, though beneath the surface it is difficult to make the art I would do, but only in secret--not like what I'm writing here, but the work (I like to call it) concerning what the poet Yeats deemed, in his final years, to be the only subjects worthy of a serious mind to explore . . . "sex and the dead"; and I have been trying to expand "the dead" to consider how death itself weighs upon a body whose pursuit of a Dionysian ecstasy was the most crucial concern of my youth, or what I sometimes call, my misspent youth.
Of late I have written, and seriously so, what are known as satires, and I even have had the sand, or gall, to compare mine with Swift's "Modest Proposal," which I have tried to teach, a job that is more labor than work to me, possibly because the young--and even many among their elders--consider Swift's essay a primer in cruelty, either because they have never read it or having done so refuse to re-read it until they realize that satire involves the creation of another world to set against the immense follies we know from experience, if not from learning, are all that indulge us until death--having gleaned the chaff that becomes our most important material for art, despite what the books say, those I never read now.
(1 September 2014)
copyright 2014 by Floyce Alexander