Vol 8, Num 12 :: 2009.06.05 — 2009.06.19
The waiting makes me anxious. I have sprinkled sandy yeast onto warm water, watched it dissolve and cloud, and now I must wait for the fireworks. Even though I know the process doesn’t require my gaze to work, I can’t drag myself away. I stand at the counter, waiting for that first clay-colored burst of life from the bottom of the bowl, second-guessing: Was the water too hot? Was the water too cold? Should I have stirred it in with my finger? Should I have left it alone? Is the yeast too old? And then, finally, one tiny bubble sails up to the surface, and then another, and then another, a cacophony of silent explosions filling the water with yeasty blooms. “Come watch this,” I say to anyone within earshot, grinning like an alchemist, “It’s alive!”
I sink my shovel’s metal head into the earth, rich and smooth as chocolate. My hands slide along the polished shaft of the tool and I feel my arms strain as I lift and turn the dirt. I mix and churn a flat and overgrown garden plot into black waves and furrows, watching as earthworms twist away from sudden shafts of light and potato bugs busily navigate new hills and tunnels. Smoothing out the tangles with my rake, I then draw the shallow trough with my finger, sprinkle on a dusting of the tiny brown seeds, ease the dirt back over top, give the row a reassuring pat, and sprinkle it with water. And now I wait. Every day I walk out back to check on my garden’s progress, and as the blank canvass stares back day after day, I begin to wonder, "Did I plant the seeds too deeply? Not deeply enough? Am I watering too much? Do they need more water? Are they not getting enough sun? What about fertilizer and soil pH and soil density? I have no earthly idea what I’m doing out here, playing in the mud, trying to coax a little life out of this ordinary dirt.
I don’t know exactly what moment it happened, that infinitesimal, silent explosion, but the echoes rolled and shook and shake me still. A seed planted, a grain of yeast set out to proof, a tiny fertilized egg dividing and dividing and dividing again. Idea became thought became conversation became intention became motion became the smallest bloom of a person and cell became cells became eyelashes and fingernails and arteries and vertebrae and skin and hair and lips. Rhythms long set in motion skipped a beat, stuttered and skipped again. In the midst of my waiting the questions crowd in: Is this the right time? Am I supposed to feel like this? What if something goes wrong? Am I really meant for this? How will my life change? What if nothing changes? Anxiety weighs on me in my waiting and there is nothing for it but time and days, weeks and months.
The dough is sticky in my hands as I slap it onto the countertop and begin the slow methodical rhythm of push, turn, fold, push, turn, fold. A thin dusty mantle of flour coats my arms, and I sprinkle more onto the lump under my fingers and feel it slowly turning smooth and soft. Push, turn, fold, push, turn, fold. I feel my whole body syncing with this fascinating rhythm and imagine my heart beating in time. I stop to blow a strand of hair out of my eyes and scratch my cheek with a floury finger. And then it is back to push, turn, fold, push, turn, fold. Like a potter wedging clay, softening and plying it into submission, I am massaging the strands of gluten, coaxing them into elastic liveliness.
** Get birth control prescription filled at grocery store pharmacy!!!!
I am weeding, only I’m not sure exactly what is a weed and what isn’t. I scan the ground looking for the feathery green strands that look like carrot tops. In my haste to get the garden planted, I neglected to remember that this was not fallow ground, simply waiting to be told what to do. This was ground crowded with its own ideas and unwilling to let them go in favor of my new plan. I finally see a few intrepid carrots peeking out of the ground, rudely interrupted by mint and milkweed and God knows what else. I delicately pick out the shoots that I think are the intruders and hope for the best. I have forgotten, again, to water the garden and the top layer of ground looks pale grey and dusty-dry. Wiping my hands on my jeans, I notice the layer of black wedged under my fingernails. With my watering can, I sprinkle everything in the plot, weed and carrot alike.
There is that moment, when you first feel him move inside of you, and you just can’t believe it’s really true. Was that the baby or a tiny little ripple in your stomach? And then it happens again, and again. Your expanding belly, your aching back, the nausea in the back of your throat, it’s not all in your head. He is really there, kicking, reaching out with his hands, doing somersaults, hiccupping. You grab your husband’s hand and put his palm on your stomach saying, “Here, feel this” and hope that he does it again. In quiet moments you tap, Morse code-like, hoping that he’ll tap back — a genius in the womb! Later, you can see your entire stomach convulse as a foot slides the length of your bulging belly. It’s getting tight in there and he keeps you awake at night, jabbing with his elbows, trying to get comfortable, tap dancing on your bladder. You have been overcome.
Waiting again for the dough to rise, I refuse to check it until the timer beeps, reminding me that the hour is up. And every time, as I lift up the corner of the clean dishcloth I threw over the top of the round ball of dough, I feel a quiver — what will I find? Will it still be heavy and thick, or perfectly domed, light as a pillow? With self-satisfied glee, I note the wide, wheat-flecked surface and the divot my finger makes in the top. The risen dough softly hisses as I punch it down, my knuckles making shallow rows in this pillow that smells of toasted wheat and oil and yeast. Pulling it out of the warm metal bowl, it feels spongy and alert in my hands. I shape it into loaves, flattening it out with a creaking wooden rolling pin and then making a tight log of dough that nestles snug as a swaddled baby in its metal pan. Again to rise, to wait, and then to bake.
The lunch menu this afternoon consists of the following:
Two delicate slices of [whole grain whole wheat flour including the germ, water, glucose-fructose/sugar, yeast, vegetable oil (canola or soybean), salt, wheat gluten, vinegar, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, monoglycerides, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, sorbic acid, and possibly calcium carbonate, calcium sulphate, cornstarch, ammonium chloride, traces of soybean, milk ingredients and sesame seeds] generously spread with the classic combination of [Roasted Peanuts, Sugar , Molasses – 2% or Less , Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil – 2% or Less , Rapeseed Oil – 2% or Less , Soybean Oil – 2% or Less , Mono- and Diglycerides – 2% or Less , Salt – 2% or Less] and [fruit (seedless strawberries and raspberries), sugar, water, fruit pectin, concentrated lemon juice, locust bean gum and/or guar gum, citric acid, natural flavour, sodium benzoate, colour], accompanied by crisp baby carrots [full-size carrots, grown in California, peeled and whittled by gigantic machines down to a chic, petite size] and tangy Gala apple slices [grown in mainland China, shipped across the Pacific ocean on a container vessel, loaded onto a refrigerated semi-truck and hauled to my local grocery store, purchased for 99 cents a pound, brought home in my blue station wagon, refrigerated, and then washed and sliced by my very own self, just for you].
There are carrots growing in the garden, and lettuce and spinach and peas and garlic and onions and thyme and basil and rosemary and zucchini and yellow squash and pole beans and tomatoes and radishes. They are beautiful, these neat little plots in the community garden, each one its own crazy quilt of bushy green patchwork. This is what hope looks like, a forgotten patch of lawn become urban farmland and a small group of teachers, architects, lawyers, students, become urban farmers, each tending his own small rectangle of earth. Life is bursting out of these plots, in all of them except mine. In my plot there is one small row of gangly-looking bean plants and a few pea shoots. The peppers, reluctant and truculent have refused to rise, and there is as yet no sign of a carrot top. I am the slow learner in this class. When you fail as a gardener in your own backyard, there is no one to note the failure but yourself. When your plot in the community garden fails, you are a showcase of ignorance. I am tempted to buy several flats of seedlings from Home Depot and plant them at midnight.
48 hours in, there is no one to do this for me. No one can step in and take over. If this baby is ever going to be pushed out, it will be me who does it. There is no machine; there is no magic formula. There is just hard, hard work. All of the months of waiting have funneled down into these last few hours and now time has simply unraveled and minutes lengthen and loosen. The oxygen mask over my nose and mouth feels sticky against my skin. Exhaustion is seeping through my whole body and yet somehow I breathe and push push push push push push. When he finally comes, he is blue-grey and silent. They lay him on my chest and in the haze I can’t understand what is happening. “Why isn’t he crying?” I hear myself asking over and over, “Why isn’t he crying?” We are the center of the whirlwind and I am helpless, barely able to lift my arms. Another second and they whisk him away, cajoling him, coaxing him to breathe, keeping their voices low and steady as they call for a team from the NICU. And then, quiet and hoarse as an old man, I hear his voice at last, in a tired, reluctant wail. He’s alive.
It is the smell that feeds me first. Rich and warm, it trickles out of the oven, into my nostrils, down my throat and into my stomach. This is the smell of home, and peace, and abundance, this scent of freshly baked bread. I pull the loaves out of the oven and exult in the flecked, nut-brown crust that answers like a hollow tree when I tap the bottom with my finger. They do not look perfect, these handmade loaves, but are rather lopsided and asymmetric, a bulge at one end, a dip in the middle. When they are finally just warm to the touch, I cannot wait any longer, but grab my serrated knife and gently saw through one end, watching as the crust cracks and crumbs and a whiff of steam escapes. My knife rasps through the crisp outer shell and the soft inner sponge together, as I cut myself a generous slice. I spread the end with butter and take a bite. It is so very right.
I suppose that when God made Adam, he could have simply said, “Let there be man!” and Hey Presto, the atoms of his body would have instantly fallen into formation and there man would be. No fuss, no mess, no getting your hands dirty — the ultimate in convenient, practical creation. And yet, here on the sixth day is God, crouched on the ground, messing about in the mud. With his thumb he marks the divot under Adam’s nose, carefully smoothing and shaping the ridges and furrows of his eyes, his ears, his lips. Standing back he pauses, squints, considers, and then stoops to add a humerus, radius, ulna, metacarpals, deltoid, bicep, tricep, skin, a few freckles, some dark hair and fingernails. He stops, looks, and is pleased. An arm! A hand! Finally, finally God stops for the last time and drops his hands. The man is there on the ground, still and perfect. He is a seed, a grain of dusty yeast, a dream. And then God lays down and puts his mouth right on the man’s mouth and breathes out a long, slow breath and says “Live, my love. Live!”
It is June. The plants in my garden are finally growing. And one day we will all go outside and walk to the plot, and there they will be, the tall feathery tufts of carrot tops. And my son will grasp one, and my daughter will grasp another one, and my husband will take two, one for himself and one for the baby, and I’ll grab one for myself, and we’ll all give a tug, and up they’ll come, those crooked, spindly orange roots, still covered in thick black earth. And we’ll wash them off with the garden hose, and there, on the green grass, under the blue summer sky, we’ll all take a bite.