Spring/Summer 1994, Volume 11.2
Farming the Salt Flats
Sure, we almost went broke, trying to coax
our crop of wilted lettuces from that
blanched dust; still, things did grow: flaccid carrots,
a sort of gum poto, row upon row
of those queer brown lettuces which flapped like
acres of rags in uning wind.
All of that proved challenging. And it proved
challenging at first to move our produce
at market. Always, the same philistine
complaint: lettuces, carrots, potatoes
they all look so old, ancient, mummified.
Well, after some convincing, one or two
greengrocers agreed to a little taste.
The rest is, as you say, mere history.
Once they had come upon such bitterness,
the citizenry would not do without.
Distribution is now our sole concern,
getting the yield parcelled without riot
worldwide. Imagine: all those years wasted
in sweetcorn, when what the multitude craved
was a satisfying, tangible grief.
The child's face was heartbreaking, so I turned
the television off before my own
advertent daughter could notice how ill
the girl was, before Elizabeth saw
what I had seen in the girl's dull eyes: vast
weariness, proximate death. I don't know.
I don't know. This sort of thing is always
going on no matter how many times
one turns off the news, or turns away from
whatever most recent token rises
to insist, albeit briefly, on some
notice. Well, I'd give all my attention
to the girl, or her brothers, or her frail
people, if attention did anything.
But you don't need me to tell you how vain
attention is, and good intentions, those
few earnest conversations we savor
with our black coffee after a big meal.
Awareness may be nothing more or less
than complicity. So I keep turning
my daughter away from what goes on like
vengeance just one or two countries over,
across town, or across the street, or here
in my own heart. She's a bright, discerning
child, and she would ask too many questions.
1. The Believer
Her father has now gone to be with God, and so
this emptiness—the body—means very little,
left, as it is, so utterly behind, almost
beneath the dignity of her attention. Her
eyes turn from one weeping witness to another,
and though she is also weeping she asks them
with her eyes why do you weep, he is not here.
2. The Unbeliever
This stillness is unbearable, but she will bear
it, will find in time a manner of recalling
the father's dissolution as complete, final,
something of a relief. He is not beyond pain,
but the pain is gone—as the life is gone—and his
body rests, cooling, glazed with the last evidence,
last oils, of an impossibly wearied engine.
3. The Other
As he shuts down for good, the room itself goes slack.
What pain he knew has leapt into her throat, and so
she swallows it, and keeps it there to grow into
a kind of dread. She alone will set her lips to his,
and smooth his face, and will retain this bleak tableau
as first communion with the flesh, and with the dire
puzzlement the body held, holds, insinuates.