"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dairy barn love song

Up by the rooftop flies the little silver owl on wings free and gliding like a rainbow’s.

Although the hayloft here has room for all, bats dig clawed naked feet deeper into vintage rafters, struggling against bossy relatives. For hatred of what they eat, I say nothing when sweeping the unclean hay below on Saturdays. People get pest control, the bats survive richly; I think this is good.

By noon the sun is a hand pushing down on my hair, and the concrete block wall with the year 1976 stands out unflinching as a barn swallow’s nest. Dandelion’s airless pollen makes my nose run, and the clover’s trinity leaves open their holy heart. Gravel fallen from the wall is the dirt and the dirt where walls sit. The barn is loud as a blowing weathervane; when you notice it, I don’t, not forgotten sounds of home.

Across the patio from mowed-down elephant ears, three-foot leaves spitting one-inch confetti, a robin pecks in the hay pile of brome and timothy. Though I’ve never hurt him, he hops two steps away. “I wish you’d stay,” I say, “You’d be a magical pet.” Mildly amused, he peers at me, and flies away.

When the wind coughs through the aisle, wooden gates rattle like fireplaces. Sunlight fleeing out the window, I knife open the bale, passing the bag of twine. Knitting, knotting, the twine breathes its bittersweet scent, green dye against green hay, holding the bales for the horses, where pawing hooves mark down impatience. Below me, spilled-bucket water swims in earth. That night I remember hay splinters, needled through gloves, bronzed, pinning dirt to skin, and try to forget by rubbing a silk pillow.

Something whispers, you can become more human here, if you want to. I have: watch the weathervane’s twirling in the prairie winds, barn swallows’ nests with four eggs in them. Alfalfa and dandelion, McCormick and Farmall, barn cat and farm dog. Also two black horses with muddy legs and wringing tails; I watch them bite their sides, kicking at bellies against golden deerflies. Those flies have settled, now, into the hayfield’s grass, a blemish in the thick-fringed carpet of someone’s room, and stayed when I have not. Look at what I still have, dull knives with dirty handles, respect for owls and bats at night, and sympathy for the smell of twine.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Purple clouds

They're always the same way, I thought as I opened the coffee shop door—passive and serious, like the home you just left but better somehow, because the music whispered there was nothing to do, just a place to be. The idea made me discreet, productive: it was like thinking of being a writer. I was not a writer when I stepped out of my rusted Toyota, but passing through the door—now I was.

They are the same way, all coffee shops I’ve been in, from the nameless one with the broken chair in central Ohio to here at Nesting Grounds in my hometown of Wyoming, Minnesota. At three in the afternoon, the March sun was fool’s gold promising warmth and masking chill, but inside, the fertile smells thawed the air and allowed it to be spring.

Today was too long. Up early for accounting homework, to the barn to ride, to class, to a meeting, to class again. Now when I could’ve gone home, I rejected the living room—tan leather couch and awkward fake fireplace—and came here to the plaid armchair by the photograph of a tree with the beige tag that said “$20.” Be a writer, start with this essay, or start with a coffee shop. The sun slanted in, amber light on mocha plates, and you knew when you sat down with your purchase, you could let yourself into your thoughts.

I waited in line to buy my coffee, so many choices, a way to feel productive. My mother has given me a coupon worthy of an adventure—buy one get one half off—so I run my finger down the small sign labeled “FLAVORS,” tasting hazelnut, almond, Irish crème (what’s that?). If I’m inspired now, I will be later: marshmallow white chocolate mocha it is. I judge people by their coffee sometimes. Why did he choose just vanilla? Does she care sugar-free flavorings cause cancer? I suppose others are judging me.

The deer are eating the daylilies this year. At the breakfast table yesterday, Dad ate his oatmeal, Mother said, “I don’t know what to do,” and the doe relished her meal. Mother recited the arsenal she’d employed: the rotten egg spray smelled bad and worked worse, but the wire-mesh fencing was ugly along our residential road, and the deer weren’t eating the neighbors’ flowers. I drank my juice.

The daylily sprouts are now a crushed running board along the wooded driveway, but that is all right, I like the crocuses better. There is only one patch of them this March, set back from the mailbox, touching the crowded trees. I like them for their bravery as well as for their color; purple was always my favorite, because in it you could see the clouds.

I take the proffered mocha, resting it on its blue-painted holder under the armchair’s window with the cold apple muffin nearby to keep it company. With laptop on my knees, I am here but also present, and I am a writer.

Coffee shops listen to something you didn’t know you were saying. Sitting in my chair, patterned purse bound around my feet, I thought I heard voices in the espresso machine’s grind. The blonde waitress asked if I needed anything else, and the mahogany wood tables held their ground.