Mr. Groen maintained a modest but pleasant yard.
Saturdays in season he cut the grass with a push
mower, pruned roses, fertilized, spread compost.
Martha Groen watered the beds full of crimson
geraniums, purple peonies, tulips, daisies, and
such that fancied her seasonal gardening moods.
But back to back dry nasty winters followed by
suns so hot the weatherman warned of drought,
and the city curtailed yard watering with fines.
Weeds bolted like bad thoughts coming from
nowhere but filling the mind with oil and gas.
Mites appeared, worms, mildews, the antithesis
of a long forgotten paradisaical anthesis.
They still sat out, but they let the yard go.
I was walking in Mt Tabor Park the other day, on a path rarely taken, steep on the south side, affording views of the college campus, its low buildings in the shade of the giant trees, the wide swath of grass between Gray and the cafe green but empty. I paused to reflect, praying peace, happiness, and lightness of spirit might fall like gentle rain onto my old colleagues and former students, and just before I moved on, I spied a small blue pocket notebook, partially buried in the brush under a bush. I pulled it out and dusted it off.
On the cover was handwritten, in a swirling cursive style, “Survival Manual.” I paged through the little notebook, about the size of a hand, about 40 pages or so, unlined, filled with handwritten notes, instructions, recipes, doodles, lists – places to go, things to do, people to see, books to read, movies liked or disliked, and short poems with simple drawings, every page crammed full of such stuff until, like a Jackson Pollock painting, there seemed not a single space left for another drip or word. There being no place nearby to sit comfortably and study the notebook further, I stuck it into my back pocket and walked on, wondering what catastrophe, big or small, might have resulted in the notebook’s author having lost it.
Home from the walk, I tossed the Survival Manual, not feeling, perhaps naively, mortally threatened at the moment, onto my desk in the dining room, already askew with bad reading and writing habits, books with bookmarks stuck in the middle, notebooks covered with dust still full of the promise of empty pages. “Write in me!” someone had finger-written in the dust of one. Magazines and journals weeks, months, quarters old. Before long, “Survival Manual” was buried beneath more pressing, unfinished projects.
A few weeks drifted by, catastrophes here and there, near and far, sudden, usually unexpected turns throwing people overboard whatever ship they happened to be sailing at the time. Still, I lacked the necessary closeness at hand to bring me to my senses and recognize the plight of our planet includes, indeed, all of us, including me. I mean to say, I’m aware of our current risks, dangers, follies and what ifs, but what really am I proactively doing to come to the aid of our planet? I mean to say, is showering only every third day or so and recycling properly, enough? Then came, locally, yet another heat wave record, and finding that I was confined by the heat outdoors to the house, even in the evening, when the sun had gone down, I decided to direct an electric fan toward my dining room desk and clear the clutter. If I had to be so hot, I would at least be neat about it. The fan, of course, produces heat as an unnoticed but negative side effect, as does the laptop on which I’m now typing these notes, bringing to you, too, dear reader of the Toads, a mere suggestion from the “Survival Manual.”
I uncovered the survival manual, immediately set aside my goal for a clean desk, and sat down in front of the fan with the manual in hand to take a closer look. I decided the notebook to be the work of a genius or madman. Of course, now that we are old and among the awakened ones, we realize the two are often one and the same. The survival manual author, who I will now refer to as SMA, wrote in a kind of shorthand style, skipping superfluous parts of speech, using fragments ignoring subject or predicate, adding icon doodles to illustrate ideas, inventions. SMA apparently possessed an ironic kind of sense of humor, too. A few of the drawings were captioned with hopeless and unexpected explanations: “Planet Senile”; “Moving to the Moon – what to take along”; “Breaststroke for polluted waters”; “How to recycle the non-recyclable.”
I paused at a page titled “Under Extreme [Heat].” Rather than describe it, I’ve attached a pic taken with my cell, to wit:
It suddenly dawned on me that “Survival Manual” is a book of cartoons.
In backyard rock lined pit dug underground for roasting of pig.
This yr pig day a hot one. The pig on a spit put into the pit by two strongest men, kneeling over the mouth, where a wood fire burning overnight has heated the rocks molten. The prepared pig at rest in the hot rocks, a sheet metal lid pulled over the hole. The pig cooks in the ground all this long hot day.
Waiting while pig cooks, drinking beer, young men throwing horse shoes, kids playing capture the flag in the closed street, salads prepped inside in the kitchen (where a ceiling fan famously spins), watermelon slices and water balloon toss in the front yard.
The pig pulls out early evening, after the old folks nap in the shade of the dusty eucalyptus.
The planet spins, spit pointed this pole toward the sun, one hot stone roasting a pretty blue pig, green apples popped in its mouth.
General agreement this yrs pig tastiest on record.
“This heat keeps up, soon be fixing swine in the shade of the sun,” Mr. Picbred says, mouth swill of pig, popping a fresh beer, sitting in front porch rocker, plate on lap, feet up, breathing from his belly, watching our sun go down.
a simple moon
once worth two bits
now a bucket of silver dollars
won’t buy a room with a hotplate
view of the polluted lake.
when all universe
was still local
we slept in the sky
now moving stairs
carry off the awful.
the moon we have lights
a dark gold daylily closed
the mope maroon dragon snapped
June dropped apples in grassy shade
a few listening pray.
the moon lost recedes
we can no longer even point to it
a pearl moon our best friend
the moon we want grows cold
our bare feet burning.
All around us,
the plants whisper
in dry brittle voices,
“water us, water us.”
there is no water,
and what falls is not wet
but drops of chthonic fireworks,
urban, rural, coastal infernos.
The plants dig and pray to Hades,
and cooler there
than here in this air.
Day Two: Slide high noontide, sundersthorms plate.
Day Three: Moistly scattered sneers and a few frizzles.
Day Four: Chants of wrinkles, dartly cloudy and chowdery.
Day Five: Humility Poor Boy Talls, Barometer IPA 75%.
Day Six: Moggy, very low viability.
Day Seven: Topical air mass pew point, wind clam.
- Thick hot pine tar air dropping from powerful trees.
- Rosemary, basil, garlic, and spearmint mixing with tales of salt water.
- Soft golden sun boiling over salsa garden.
- Bare feet in wet sand, nibbled by sand crabbed bubbles.
- Plenty of weather to write or not in the forecast. Some pressure to publish sun only.