Natural Phenomenon: Tulsa, 1933


The divorce lifted up and cut the green tomato of Randall’s firm dry youth down to
a muggy persistent diet of angry-looking tomato paste.
You still had to call him “boss’ and stand firm to his handshake and ignore the
buggy quiver of the blue vein over his eyelid, his wide forehead arching and prancing as
the flinch gyrated, the surrounding landscape slurred with grit. Dark swirls still ached
there to wed loose straw to a virgin tree, needle-nailed carloads of loosed hay soon to be
planted, driven, and posted to poles, pressured deep into a late life of something more
than mere decay. You couldn’t pretend that fine blue hog belly-flopping in the marsh had
gone airborne only to escape Aunt Esther’s dog. In this town you don’t even need a word
like ‘tornado” to describe it.
Life stings. Life squeaks. Life leaks a bloody trail of unexpected punches. It’s a
different kind of person who’s dead all the time, but you can find them anywhere it stays
dry entirely too long. It’s not what they do, it’s what they don’t, and nothing seems to
hurt more than a cough and turn of the head at a touching moment.
Even the rain that follows behind isn’t much comfort, but at least the general
direction of friendlier gestures isn’t hard to discover.
You can find some of us draped over a walker and rummaging on. There’s such a
long way to go before the exertions of your heart prove more than just blood’s accidents.
No one knows how poor they really are. If they did, they would open out into blossom, as
the needy roses do, eating dirt and smiling a little extra if they get pissed on.
I finally spoke to some of Randall’s newer residents about renewing the simplicity
and raw demands of vocabulary by having a child. They actually listened. Saying it to a
lover used to be like trying to exchange anecdotes with a hollow marmot.
Carlin must have been the one who woke me, standing there grinning and saying,
“You’re looking very life-like today,” and for once, meaning it. Directly he was able, he
barked with a stick, that one did, but he wasn’t able there for a time. I looked towards the
opening door and decided nothing could be as beautiful as a well-worn wooden knob. I
had completely forgotten that its purpose was to facilitate the functions of the slab of
wood it was attached to. I remain none of my imaginations.
I told my locals I had been at The Church of Lemon Dripping, acknowledging their
sour and open-mouthed prayers, and my keys were unlocking the wrong doors. I spoke of
the way a child unwittingly carries its future out of the past in the vessel of its
determinant body. I told them I had been watching a production of Ibsen performed
entirely by swans. I told them I had been disciplining traffic lights with a tendency to spit.
I told them I had been accosted by an embarrassed nun holding a broken teddy bear. I
was sure Giacomo Meyerbeer had composed an opera in her honor.
They tell me, astonished, they had to work on me in pieces, sewing pieces to pieces
before sewing them to the bigger part of me. They were surprised when I told them I
already knew what they had to do. They thought I’d have been further away when I
woke, but I was right where I left me. It wasn’t exactly surgery, it was more like therapy,
but this time they could see what they were doing.

Rich Ives is the author of Tunneling to the Moon: A Psychological Gardener’s Book of Days currently being published in serial @ Silenced Press everyday in 2014 and forthcoming in paperback. Begin from the beginning, catch up, read daily. Just refer to the Burrow Guide.