DAY OF THE DEAD
I watch the earth boil and break
bright green pushing up
row upon row,
an army risen to stand at attention
until its cut.
Wheat shoots and soybeans
push up clods of dirt,
as much miracle as corpses
shoving back dirt
to haunt the sunlight.
Babies roll over boulders
open tombs where I sit, weep,
wait for the farmer
to tell me what it means.
But then there’s this: The wind shifted and blew chemical into our yard. I felt like I’d been swung out on a ride flipping me up then down, queasy, angry. It burned my face. I could taste it. I watched him spray all the way up to the tree I look to, every morning and evening when I walk out to do chores. The smell hung in our yard the next morning. The clover on the edge of our field wilted. People say it’s great to live out in the country. Well, these days not so much.
I asked about the danger at a party of neighbors. An older woman said, “Everybody does it.” And I clamped my mouth shut and crossed my arms. I don’t want to make trouble. The folks who work the land around here are neighbors (and there is more love, more community here, than you’d think that word represents.)
On the other hand, don’t these women care that it’s estrogenic? That it can make breast cancer? That it kills the biome? People post their memes on Facebook about bio-engineered food and the evils of Monsanto. I don’t know about that. I’ve heard there is poor science in some. But I do know, how sick I feel when this stuff is laid down. I do know my brain doesn’t work well, when I’m here. Neither does Bruce’s. It’s supposed to be safe. It’s not supposed to make you ill. But I wonder how many diabetic farmers there are. How many wives and daughters have breasts gone sour. When, I wonder, when, will the ground say, “No, no more?”
I stopped over at the other neighbor’s place, since our house sits in the middle of corn and soybeans and we’re due for another dose from his side. He was working on his spray buggy, water dripping down to the gravel driveway. I asked if he could give us a call when he sprays. This is worse than the manure that can be so strong it will ruin a load of laundry hung out to dry. (The EPA will hear my call about the slurry, but I’m not so sure about the chemical. I have not called. These are my neighbors.)
“I’m careful,” he said.
“I know. But I want to put the animals inside, close up our house.” I did not say I’m due for a lumpectomy, that the docs say is pre-cancer, and the docs pat themselves on the back, saying this is why we do mammograms–to catch this early. And I have to stop myself from saying I’ve got cancer because they say it’s not, and I am not so sure.
When the surgeon’s office called for presurgery instructions, they asked me what drugs I’m on. Well, this and that, but really not much more than vitamins. But I should have added glycophosate. Doctors shrug when I ask if there’s an effect. “We don’t know.” But studies are showing there is a link to the breast cancer susceptible to hormones. Maybe I’ll call back and add this to the list. One of my Facebook friends, a neighbor a few roads over, asked me the other day, how I was doing. I said, “Fine. Morgen’s in training. I finished copy editing the book.”
“No I mean your health. I’m praying for you.”
And I breathed in silence, for the care coming my way that I didn’t even know was there.
So let me end with another poem. (The jar of wheat shows up in The River Caught Sunlight. These two poems are from an unpublished poetry collection, I called The Grieving Dreams, that was the second draft of River and the last time I played with poems before I turned to sentences, because I like them more than lines.)
The first summer Mr. Miller planted winter wheat,
he brought us a jar with a red rose on the lid
full of seeds smooth as fannies. He handed them
to my mother to show her what he would be planting.
She said yes seeds were good as kittens to teach
her children about life. The first day I took
Social Studies, we read about store-bought bread.
I told the teacher I knew about the wheat part.
“Just read the page,” she said.
Before harvest, we drove to church and stopped
past our lawn. In a fog, spiders wove webs
like Queen Anne’s lace as far back as the woods.
I would have begged my parents to stop and watch
until the sun if I’d known the webs would break.