Write as if you were dying... This is, after all, the case... What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
I ride through the coastal morning. The sea mist is in, the palms and hotels inchoate. This coast encrusted with asphalt and buildings like blocks of mineral.
I ride the river path where the mugwort grows, where herons row the air. People lined up on their cardboard beds under the bridges, colored by shadow and dust. Three men pass a forty, frothy as urine. The growl of traffic. Cigarette smoke and sea salt.
Cali is eleven months old. A few days ago she took eight steps on her own. Of the light on the walls in the morning, of the nylon straps of her high chair, of the many blooms of the rose bush, of the ringing wind chimes, she repeats the phrase again and again, so pretty, so pretty.
At work I prune plants and pull weeds, but also collect detritus from the parking lot of a grocery store. It amasses in short order, mounds in the corners and along the curbs. Cigarette butts, wood shavings, paper receipts, food wrappers, beach sand, all mired together. Tangles upon tangles of human hair, as though people idly rip it from their heads as they pass. I once found a hypodermic needle in a plastic tub of barbecue sauce, vision of a tragic meal.
The hip coffee shop chatters, people pass in and out of the lot. Sometimes they slowly inch their bumpers into the parking space where I am picking up their garbage. Inching, inching, the engine whining, until I move at last. Across the train tracks, an electric wheelchair is parked in the gravel, its owner curled and sleeping in the grass.
Most of my time is spent caring for plants. Certain plants if I’m honest. I often rip dandelions from cracks in the sidewalk, that proverbial image of resistance to the blankness of pavement, the soul-killing industrial sameness, wildness in the crevasses. Here am I pulling them up, blithely continuing on. I go by bicycle between paying clients.
At each location I prune, weed, sweep, prettify. It is good work in the scheme of things, and I am well suited to it. My face close to the soil, there is the evidence of human immiseration and the colonization of wild land. I am of two minds. I wonder what the hell it’s all for, pulling these weeds, most of which are edible and growing wild like a gift.
Dandelions are an excellent bitter salad green, can be used in place of hops in beer, feed pollinators, heal the liver. What is the point of asphalt and store fronts, fences and parking lots, cash registers and pay checks, endless streets, cramped planter boxes. And what is the point of these words, these babbled scenes from an undistinguished life, as meaningless as telling a dream. Annie Dillard heads a chapter in The Writing Life: SORRY TO TELL YOU A DREAM!
‘Why not shoot yourself,’ she wonders, ‘rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?’ But dandelions grow, where they will, where they can, where their seed has landed, germinated, taken root. I can’t argue the words away – they press at the inner border of my skin, would rip me apart to get out. The dandelion is not for your liver, it’s not for a symbol of the wild breaking the oppression of concrete, it just is.
Not far away the untameable Pacific rolls breakers against the cliff, tearing at the continent. Wildness is always there. A ness is a headland or promontory, a place around which waters flow. Our cognition is a little rise, lifting our heads from the water, but it puts us in this awkward place, wondering and worrying and assigning blame, when we might otherwise be content in the roll of the wave, not wishing to be elsewhere.