By The Skin of My Teeth

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The sump pumps churn in the basement alternating forceful, consistent blows of water from the concrete foundation, up and out of the house. Ten inches of snow melt seeped into the November soil followed by two days of consistent rain, asking too much of the ground below to hold. Freshly emptied water buckets under the dripping roof have been poured into the sink and returned to their kindred tile homes eager for new collection of earth which spills inside. I boot up and take a light to the basement examining the streams that press in from the walls, remembering salamanders dwelling there during flooded days of early spring when the water ceased to keep from the walls. One half brick and two lengths down in the corner on the north wall is a mental note I make to myself where water pours in. Under the chimney boiling up from the floor. Another hole high up above one sump pump where water cascades down the wall, three holes apparent building a stream, and one room of the basement ankle deep with too much water to assume there is only one culprit spot allowing in the flow.

The kitchen is filthy and frigid, my belly hungry with cold in my bones. I take a hot shower first so that the water will warm my fat allowing me a more pleasant mood to cook a hot egg and warm some bread in a pan which will warm me from the inside. My skin begins to cool the longer I cook, but thoughts of the hot yolk slipping down my throat are promising. There is still no insulation in my ceiling, and when the heat kicks on part of me sickens visualizing dollars I do not have evaporating out of the cracks and through the roof. I part the blanket separating the living room and kitchen to get under blankets and a heating pad to eat my steaming egg and rosemary bread.

There are moments on this farm where I feel like I have the help of the world, and this is a truth. It is also a truth that I am a single woman, and all of these trickles of water and slips of heat are burdens all my own. There is no one beside me hustling pastries, sewing goods, planting for spring, making soap, or caring for babies to make an income to put into the roof or the walls. My saviors are my two hands, my hurting legs which still allow me to move and walk, and a sense of capable self worth and gratitude which prevents me from wallowing in disbelief in the power to accomplish and provide for myself.

This is no plea for pity. It is a truthful analysis of my days. They are both sweet and tart. “Three things of joy, one of grief, that makes a living thing,” I keep this statement alive in my brain when I feel simultaneous gratitude and truthful pangs of struggle. I am alive. My shower curtain is weeping with hard water, stained from the family who lived here formerly, and never replaced new when I moved in. Lady bugs cluster together on the ceiling in the bathroom where there is still insulation and the steam of the hot water enlivens them again, and they start to skate around the ceiling resurrected. Who am I to kill them when they cluster for warmth as I would if there was a belly to my back? Seeing their shells meet I feel an affinity to them as though we are in this together. I thought to myself how to so many people this house is unsavory and gross with its many issues and the wildlife it tends to harbor. To me, it is my home.

“As long as you’re in no hurry, it doesn’t matter how much work your house needs,” a neighbor once said to me among a corn field. With certainty, there are many accomplishments that will come in slow time. In the meantime, it is imperative that I fight for each dollar in the jobs I take on because my time is worth it, my skills are worth it, and my heart is pure in every job I take on. If I make you food, it is with a yolk colored of the sun down, rich, and labored by a hen who mustered what she could with the dwindling light of the season. If I care for your baby, I give them my heart and my hands, and if my body was willing I would lend them my breast. When I give you my time, I give you my life. When I give you my word, I give you my heart.

Just now, I am supposing I simply wish the world knew. I wish that all of our employers, all of those in positions of power with dangling dollars, could see what our individual lives hold, and how hard we are working to put those dollars into warming our walls. And in so, perhaps those employers would limp their wrists and let down the dollar easy and say, “I see how you love my child. I see how cold your kitchen is. I see how your work is the earth’s work. I see how you nurture life among the land and life among our homes. I see you are trying. And because I am in this position of power, and because I honor what you give to my family and what you give to the world, and how you honor your word, I, too, will honor my word and will stay true and giving in the reciprocity you provide for my family and the sleep I collect because your hands and heart are at work in my home, in the heart of my child, in the heart of the earth wherein I am absent. I cease the negotiation of your time.”

But what more to do, than to speak the truth, illuminate what we can, and move on where our light is not seen. Praise be for strong friends who remind us of our capacity and our worth. Praise be that I live among these lady bug companions who remind me that all I ever wanted were simple walls that I would enliven into a Home, and land wherein I could be free. So be it that the sump pumps wanted one more workout before the coming again of spring rains, and so be it that the kitchen has yet to keep its warmth. I am grateful for all I have, for I have much more than I have not. I have life, freedom, mobility despite pain, a warm bed, myself and animals fed, my praise of days, loving friends and family, capable and hardworking hands, and a heart so full that it only continues to multiply in love for all the earth harbors.

I might be making it by the skin of my teeth, finding it difficult to ask for what I need, but I am asking for what I need, and by the skin of my teeth, I am making it and fully alive, a living thing.

Abby Juanita Rodriguez, November 2015.

In The Morning Light

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When I walk into the morning light of the field, the grasses below are soft and succulent, of green. Hundreds of grasshoppers shimmer a flash in jump as though they are peeling the seas as I amble through the pasture. Their scattered hops sound of rain as they land newly leafed elsewhere. Ragweed leaves sag with new found jumping companions and blades of grass are made iridescent with the winged creatures weighing them heavy.

There is a persistent purr of chirps orchestrated by all of the bugs of September. The sound that is here today, with errant cricket songs, is the one that will be blanketed by the white of winter. (And there will be joyous rest in that silence, too.) I am taking note of the fertility today as I feel the seasons changing, and I am writing it as a reminder that I reveled in these seasons. I drank the nectar day after day and I continue to sip from the well of great fertility and grace.

A buoyant field of goldenrod gently bounces with the breeze and with the sun it makes gold layered upon gold. This morning I woke to the proud stalks of goldenrod and sunflowers and I wept. A human could not dream a more beautiful life than what is presented here in our days on this beautiful Earth.

The trees are changing ever so slightly in color, with the cottonwood seeming the first to layer its yellows and lose its leaves, gently shedding each day. Much else is still lush, green, and giving. Warm pears are plucked from the trees and in so a bowed branch is released upward again. Worms are delighting in each fallen fruit that comes to them sooner than to my hands and they rejoice in the plenitude, as do the chickens. My kitchen smells of homemade apple sauce and simmering pear, and my grandfather’s concord grapes scent the September air, sending me back to my youth and I am waist high all over again. Except this time, I am taking steps in becoming my mother and grandmother. Each gift in the grape they have instilled into me I practice now to pass onto another, waist high or otherwise.

I will be singing of the morning light and the evening light long after I have returned to the soil and come again in the golden morning. Each thread of day, of year, of season, of moment, is a golden bath unto its own. And here we flicker in the jubilant seas like the grasshopper iridescent in the rays, shining long into the day, pretend alchemists to the already gold.

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Notes From a Rainy Market Day

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They predict an inch and you are in for three. Or more.

The Earth decides the way of the rain, and whether the gladiolus will rot or bloom,

If what is planted will strive or shrivel,

If fungus will be the final word.

If there will be enough flowers for the wedding, and which will be the surviving variety upon which celebration rests.

No one can prevent the course the Great Mother takes, though we may pray for healthy crops, we cannot demand that hand.

We can hope next year is better. Or next week, or month, or weeks until the frost comes.

There is comfort in the camaraderie of fellow farmers.

Everyone is in prayer and a furrowed in-flexed brow wears upon each forehead.

At least I know my sheep has a break from the mosquitoes and heat in the shelter from the downpour.

And though adaptations prove difficult for humans and animals to move from 70 degree weather to three sun’s heat over 100 degrees, we will find our adjustments.

And though the roof leaks, and the basement floods, and the field (in places) holds water –

I have a roof. I have a basement. I have a field.

And, thankfully, the weather and seasons flux with the ephemera of a flower.

May the elements be on our sides.

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