ACROSS MY BACK ALLEY, two men hover from a crane, repainting the oldest church steeple in town. Like bells unhinged, they sing loud with the radio, Say say say what you want. And I think I want you to be quiet.
In my garden, I watch and wait and beg the corn to grow. Bindweed threatens to strangle the carrots every night. On the naked ground where cutworms devoured the thin stems of golden beets last month, nothing will sprout at all. I want to despair of these things, but the painters sing off key and make up the lyrics they don’t remember, bouncing laughter off the spire.
I am on my knees in the weeds, the freshness of spring dreaming long gone. It’s not just that the wind was most violent and dogged when gentle air was needed to grow lettuce. It’s that snow suddenly returned one night mid-June, blackening the tomatoes I’d nurtured since February. Meanwhile, the days get too hot for kale and the nights drop too cold for even attempting peppers. The hollyhocks are besieged by weevils. I’m helpless to stop buds from shriveling just as they’re willing to flower. All the aged manure, the compost, the straw mulch I have spread doesn’t put a dent in the whims of weather. Next month, if we aren’t in drought, I’ll fret over forecasts of hail. For all the planning, the care, the hauling, the tending and hope, only crabgrass and grubs seem to bear.
So don’t tell me to say what I want. Isn’t it long past time for that? The day is blowing away, already almost too hot for hope. Only small things to do now. Toss spent petunia blooms on the compost heap. Pick a palmful of peas every other morning. Water what is left in this exposed patch of life.
The ground here is rich but hard-packed and dry. The sun can bore through almost any attempt at protection. Even the church steeple has paid for its prayers. Lifting its cross over the neighborhood all day, all night, what does it get for its supplication but paint peeling away like sunburned skin? Now these voices hover around the belfry and bellow out Pray every day that you’ll see things.
I have. I’ve worked and watched. This was not the answer I wanted. Nothing to show. No guarantee that corn or carrots find a way to thrive. If there’s to be any kind of harvest at all, it’s a long season away and so much weeding to do.
It is midway through the longest day of the year. On my clothesline, a row of T-shirts open their short arms, brightening under the glare. The figures over the church with their white brushes blend into the sun, but I know they are there. I can hear them singing. Stay stay stay.
Nicole Parsons’s work has been published in Ruminate, short-listed for the Glimmer Train fiction prize, and been produced as the podcast Wet Mountain Valley Dry Goods. She holds an MFA from Seattle Pacific University and publishes short audio essays at ShrineOfTheReal.substack.com.
Image courtesy of Czapp Botond, via Unsplash.