Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hawthorne Road

I kept going when I saw the horses. They were swinging their brown heads in the low green swarm of the weeds growing by the ditch, their bodies gleaming in the beginning rays of the sun setting over in the west. I could feel, as if it were not seven years ago but only yesterday, the layers of dirt and sweat thick on my hands from brushing a horse after riding, combing it gently but hard enough that its barrel belly would shake in pleasure from the feeling of the curry comb. It made me take deeper breaths of the cooling evening air and I was intoxicated by the smell of my childhood, of playing outside until the sun sank too low and it was time to take a bath. My feet pounded against the ground in too-flat shoes as I came around the corner. The oak trees here, so much bigger than the oak trees back East, towered majestically over me. I suppose they have more sky to grow in here. A sweet thick scent of flower bushes pushed me onward, tempting me, suggesting possibilities for love between myself and the state with the scorching days and the chilly nights. A veritable desert and my husband is proud of it. The sprinklers jerked their heads sharply, punctually, the kinking fretting sound of water shimmying through the hose and into the carefully kept green grass. The house on the corner was plain, nothing extraordinary or lush, but surrounding it were these tall oak trees, gentle-eyed giant women with soft rough voices and soft rough bark.

Before me lay a golden field that stretched out forever. I opened my mouth, to gasp for air and to wonder in awe at the way the word land came to my mind. I had seen this place before in a dream, in which I stood on a hill and looked down at the grain growing below me, waving in rippling conglomerate rows and wriggling each root into the cool dark damp of the dirt. The field was ripe—I knew this was a lie, I knew it was too green, but the sky stretched down a shower of coppery haze, golden arms reaching down like strong women kneading dough, and I felt that warm bread could be baked from the sheaves at any moment. The stalks of wheat shimmered and bent toward me, away from me, pressing together and then straining apart, moving together and separately at the same time. Breathing. Whispering. I could not have captured it had I thrown open my arms—it evaded me, evaded the comfort of closed-in groves and round blue hills and gentleness. But the smell was the same—the smell of asphalt black and tarred in my nose, the thick rich smell of tall grass filled with twitching hopping insects with sharp legs and thin heads, the sweet summery smell of water dampening the grass and running in rivulets onto the side of the road. I felt like everything was opening itself to me, proclaiming itself to be wide and wild and untamed—but not any more dangerous than it was comforting.

And then from the ground came, inexplicably, the humming of the universe—which I had not expected to hear anywhere but India. Yet here it was, deep, throaty—no, different—instead of the low voices of men chanting and humming and praising were women’s voices, melting together, harmonizing, strong and perseverant and rich. I heard in my mind the words of a song which I could hear the pioneer women singing:

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way !

O sisters let's go down,
Let's go down, come on down,
O sisters let's go down,
Down in the river to pray.

My grandfather grew up here. The East must seem closed-in and thick to him, uncomfortably broody, melancholy, full of reminiscence and yellow leaves and the melting of firefly lights in and out of the dark summer bushes. As I came back from running tall trees with dark, sharp leaves cast their eyes at me and shivered a little, desiring to place their branches in my hands so they could pull me into a dance. I denied them and continued on. For the first time I had fallen a little bit in love with this place, with each stalk of golden wheat, with each sweaty horse’s back, with each drop of the deep water running through the ditches. It crawled under my skin and sang quiet, insistent songs. As the field disappeared behind me, two horses arched their backs high and proud in the pale rose glow of the setting sun. They struck an elegant silhouette, dark and sharp and shining. I could remember the feeling of a horse’s body under mine, years before, of its strength and power and fearlessness—just from looking at them, standing there like that. I felt strong just looking at them. The sun swallowed the horizon whole and dashed pink and gold and white across the sky, shouting, blowing its horns, stomping on the ground and throwing back its head and laughing. It had every reason in the world, to be so happy and so free and so unafraid. I laughed too.

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