genuine homeplace where children once grew up, then moved away, and over the years kept returning to bring their own children to Grandma’s for the holidays and Sundays. SurelyI think each time I go by there is an old gray head somewhere inside. But I have never seen a face at a window or a humped figure feeding a cat out the back door. Three huge arborvitae loom up about the front yard, reaching above the top of the house. The grayshingled roof slants down past the attic windows to the neat front porch with its slender white columns. Cottonwoods and elms are about, and pampas grass, and roses growing up a trellis. Behind the housebeyond the trumpet vines and purple sageare the outbuildings and a long back lot where a white horse grazes. The front yard is always mowed, no litter is about, there is no sign of neglect. The house is perfectly, properly maintained as it sits in its deep setting of green. Everything about it is still in placeready for grandchildren to run and laugh and roll across the grass while the adults watch indulgently from their wicker chairs on the screened-in side porch. Yet I never see anyone in the house, or near it. Doves perch on the telephone wires each afternoon; the roses are still in bloom. Water hydrants are always kept wrapped against winter freezes, and a washtub leans against the back porch bricks. The house continues to sit there, as if waiting for the day that Life will walk up the front sidewalk again and open the door. I would like a mesquite in the backyard. I would sit under it and look up and be glad to see the fragile, light-green elegance of the leaves. There is space between the branches, allowing the air and sky to be a part of the tree. Mesquites in summertime are not commandingnot towering or majestic like oaks or pines. They are undramatic, peaceful: trees of light, the sun shining on each of the thin, delicate leaves. It’s remarkable: Most often they are simply desert-land shrubs, growing in inhospitable soil, needing the barest amount of moisture to surviveyet give them adequate water, and they become trees I would give as gifts. A little girl and her older companion are seated in the swings at the side of the park. They are talking more than swinging. The little girl asks questions, and the older girl gives answers. The little girl is barefooted. She leans forward from her swing, drags her feet around and around in the dirt, finally brings up a stick with her toes. She removes it, breaks it against the chain of her swing, begins to beat a rhythmless rhythm against the metal seat. Her companion continues to make lazy, going-nowhere half-circles, keeping one foot constantly in the dirt. The little girl looks over at me as I read on a nearby bench. She beats her stick some more, watches the boys playing soccer across the way, squints up through the elms at the late-morning sun. Then she looks back at me and calls out, “Why haven’t you left yet?” There are mild afternoons in El Paso filled with pale sunshine. As I look out the window at the sunlight laying its touch on the bare tree limbs and on the brown faces of fallen leaves, I wonder what it would say if it could speak. Imagine: the everyday afternoon sun bringing us, instead of its usual light, a voice from the far reaches of space. It would give us the daily news of the universeletting us know that we were not alone, that we were part of the ongoing cosmic conversation. Each day words would be available in the language of lighta visual braille of sorts, easily decipherable by all who paid close attention, who were quiet enough, receptive enough. In every El Paso backyard one could read, hour after hour, the illumined language of life. Elroy Bode is a longtime Observer contributor and the author of most recently, In a Special Light \(Trinity POETRY I JAMIE BUEHNER SHE WATERED THE HORSES For my mother Every morning in winter she filled five-gallon buckets with warm, clear, heavy water for the horses. I didn’t tell her she was strong for carrying the buckets all the way to the barn but she knew. In the sunlight as she did this one thing she looked happy and young as she would come to for good in her new marriage years later. In those days at our farm she stood still, looking in at the horses as they drank. JAMIE BUEHNER is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Hamline University’s Graduate School of Liberal Studies. She lives in Minneapolis. MAY 29, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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