Somehow January just sped on by and now it’s February 1st, a brand new month in a brand new year. When too much time passes between my blog posts, I get a little “blog shy” so I decided I’d drink my shy antidote tincture and post *something* today. Note to self: when stuck, post something, anything. 1, 2, 3, go!
Out of my writing archives I share with you something I wrote close to twenty years ago!
Somehow even today this three-part prose piece still resonates…
I am seven. My pink sweatshirt catches on sticker bushes, my bare feet sink into soft clay. I stand on the mound of earth that guards the entrance to the steep wooded gully in my front yard. I call my hill Fernyland. It is a sanctuary for ferns, dark green ferns that never seem to lose their leaves. They are stationed like an army on my little hill guarding the woods, yet their arms spread open to me. It is fall.
I am thinking about what it feels like to sit alone on the school bus. I am thinking about how hard I listen to conversations of other kids, how much gossip I secretly know. It is on my hill where I can speak. Finally. Open my mouth. Here. I am protected by maple trees and the yellow ceiling they create for this mound. For my body. It is like a cave in this space. Moist and dark and safe. I want a voice, my voice, to surface here. I know the ferns are waiting.
It has rained and the earth beneath me is drinking. Slowly. I can no longer stand on this mound of earth; I crouch down, staining my knees gray and brown, touching the wet clay with my fingers. I dig paths with my knuckles; rainwater slides out of puddles into these trenches. Deep. Deeper. I wish I could fold myself into these creases of cool, moist earth and sleep. But I open my mouth. A bit. I dig my fingers down, down and feel roots. Something smooth and definite emerges. It is my voice.
* * *
I am twelve, blasted with high bangs and makeup. I am hairspray and zit cream and menstrual blood finding refuge here. I enter Fernyland with tennis shoes, careful not to dirty the white canvas and silver laces. I want to leave behind the sounds of television and radio tunes, but discover that clay is loud. Heat is never quiet; it is always snapping and splitting open like dry wood. I listen to my shoes scuffing against the clay powder. I can almost ear the earth cracking in this heat. It is summer.
They have drilled and cut and driven over this mound. They have pushed a water pipe through its heart, cracking the clay, tearing up roots. The army of ferns has been destroyed, but is beginning to surface again. I sit in the center of my hill, filling its coarse skin turning to powder in my hands. There is nothing to smell, nothing to taste. I hate my body. I feel ugly. Dirty. There is something about dryness that makes me want to become stale, empty, starved. In front of the mirror I feel barren. I cannot relate to my own image, so I find myself here on this wounded mound, in the clay dust and dry heat.
I am remembering a story my brother told me about the fox king and the squirrel who lived in Fernyland. He said the fox king chased the squirrel into a drain pipe and died. For several years I checked the spot where I knew the squirrel decayed. When I peered in, I believed I saw him there. I believed. A year ago, my brother told me he lied about the story. Why does it seem a comfort now to know that he lied?
I long to feel cool and moist again, protected by vines and ferns. Dust sticks to my oily face. I am glad I cannot see my reflection in earth. I know my nose would look large, my pimples swollen and red. Exposed. Knowing that a metal pipe runs through this mound makes my stomach sting; I know the small ferns and new growth trees must be stretching their roots down, only to find something metal and hard.
* * *
I am sixteen. Fernyland is holding the weight of new couplets of maple trees. Trains of ivy and vines and sticker bushes twist into braids and knots. Ferns are standing guard. I can feel their leaves brushing against my calves as I trace my way through the darkness. The clay is smooth and wet, like my face. I am standing in the dark, accepting the musty smell of rain, my feet burrowing into the loose earth where I have just buried my dog. It is spring.
Clouds hide stars tonight; rain makes the ferns droop and cry. For the first time since my childhood I crave the taste of dirt. I want to plunge into this moist clay feet first, cool wet life pressing through layers of toes, against skin, into my nose, mouth, and eyes, feeding me.
I am sixteen and I am curling up on his grave, my knees against my chest. The light from the house filters through leaves and vines. I am living only in stringy shadows. The wind is carrying chimney smoke into my cave, reminding me of heat, of being dry. It reminds me of summer, of clay splitting open, splintering like bark. Dry is too open, too exposed, too empty. I am full when I breathe damp air, fog. I hold my breath in intervals, blocking the smoke from my nose and mouth. Why is it that I have come here to breathe, and now I must hold my breath?
I am thirsty. I wonder how long it takes the rain to reach the roots of the maple trees, of the ferns that stand like army brigades, protecting me. I wonder when the rain will reach his body, making him soft and cool. I wonder if roots will ever travel that far down, touch his bones, twist around his body. I grab for the strong arms of ferns, and feel what it’s like to take root and grow.
Courtney E. Putnam, c. 1995