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Volume 17, Issue 4: Flotsam


Nathan Wilson

There is a young lion in my sidewalk crack and I am going to poison it. I am going to spritz it with death before its yellow heads balloon to fuzz and seed my lawn. Or perhaps I'll save the poison for worse creatures and grind this one with my heel as I walk. Grind it again as I return, and grind on with every passing until its new hydra heads slink low, crawling low with bellies down, no longer rearing toward the sun. Then I will hand my son a stick and teach him decapitation.

A dragon lied to us. We submitted to its lies and now the earth struggles, cursed. Thistles plague my yard. Cheat grass, prickly lettuce, morning glory, nettles, all assault my landscape. Fairy rings are strangling the home of my ancestors, and they are hard to poison, holding grass roots captive, cutting supply lines to the surface. The siege is difficult to break. Pierce the rings with direct assault from every position twice in every day. Air drop detergent to hold the points of penetration. Soak. A month of such assault could save the hostage lawn. But it may not. Lawn fungus dies as hard as its brothers on your toes and in their sorry nails.
I have a friend from a farm, where his family shepherds tomatoes. Rows and miles of tomatoes, weak, but gathered and protected. Tomatoes are not the fittest. Thistles are fitter. Every weed, greedier for the sun, more aggresive in its search for it, is fitter. Tomato shepherds cannot be passive people. They cannot wait and react to an assault. They preempt. They are the aggressors in their struggle with the curse. Truckloads of poisons commit massive herbicide. Planes dust every inch of the tomato pastures. The ground is struck with probes, small lightning rods of electric charge send currents playing within the moisture of both plants and earth. Then comes the gaseous death angel, charged for attraction, glomming its protection even on the underside of leaves. This magic kills no herbs, but defends the vines against the pests, the hordes of aphids, wild or tended by the ants, and all other small hungry things with a taste for a tomato's life.
But the damage we have done this world has another incarnation. Man bears the burden of the curse-struck mud. Man battles with prickly things, nurses the slow-growing things, defends them to ripeness. Woman shares this war, but there is another theater. There is a conflict where Woman does not merely share the fight, a place where men defend a different kind of fruit. Woman is at stake.
Three times I have watched my wife's belly swell. I watch and I know, there is a person inside her, a person too large for comfort, too large for passive safety, a person that must come out. I know there must be blood.
In the Garden a dragon came and I did not defend my wife. I let her stand, and think, and fight alone, and then I watched her fall. It is the woman's fight, I said. It is the woman's role. She can make her choices; she can choose her struggle. She fell toward death and still I did not fight. I followed her down. It is not her fault that I stood behind her, and now she dies.
I will not make that mistake again. I will not stand behind her and let her choose her weapons, her ground, while the blow, the curse of my old sin begins to fall.
I once watched a woman sliced by men. A baby growing in her belly had a weed in its chest. No room for lungs, no room for air. While the woman slept, the men fought her pain, and fought her child's death. The mother split, the baby pulled partway through the hole, still breathing through the mother's lungs. A second tiny abdomen was sliced, small ribs were pried, the cystic weed removed. The lungs were pumped and filled and trained in place, the mother reconnected.
Our fight is not so drastic. We are not fighting in the last ditch. But we can. Here we fight a battle seen a thousand times, one new life struggling to live alone, to leave a mother's body. Here the curse is strong, but not as deadly.
Pain is a flood, an invasion. This pain, according to some, is a purgation. A woman must pay her debt, be purified. I do not believe it. I stand beside the bed, beside the blinking lights, and help her lean against the curse. But I can do more. I have fought fairy rings. We can lay siege to this curse. We can destroy its communication. Three different men have helped me. Three different men have come and brought their curse-killer.
I hold my wife's head and shoulders. I hold her still through waves of pain. A needle comes and numbs the nerves. A second comes, hollow and piercing, detergent holding the penetration. A test, and then the final action. A plastic tube and through it, our assault. We block the growing weed and it will starve. The pain is quarintined, and her body quietly returns to labor, undistracted by the noise of enemies.
I have three tomatoes now. One will stand where I have stood and two will see the struggle from the other side. They are young, and mostly fat, and full of laughter. Together we walk, and trip, and hurt our toes, and stomp on fairy rings.
I do not always spray my weeds, or poison my curse. But I will always grind it with my heel.

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