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.

The Day I Picked Your Flowers

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Under the waning leafy canopy of the poplar
Stars unfurl as a laced umbel of the prairie.
Cows breathe to my back among the choir of night.
Frogs and crickets voice a percussive air
While the atmosphere crisps into a dew,
Beading in the lamb’s wool.
Evidence I’ve lived pulsates through my body,
Each venous throb a reminder of the day.
The husk cherries pulse.
The zucchini, the greens and beets,
Asters and amaranth.
Resting soft lips on warm sheep’s horns,
And the little boy who fancied himself as a ram.
Laugh-crying in the field
With harvest companions.
Dancing in the carrots, feet bare to dirt.
The monarchs ambling in pasture tune,
Goats sunbathing in a sea of golden rod and lingering Queen Anne’s Lace,
All of the wild aches within the knees.
The new crescent moon curling its thread above,
My bath of sediment where the day washes from my skin.
My dawn began with a hen revealing under breast and wing
Chicks singing that Mother has Warmed them into Living.
A testament of all to come nestles
Among a satisfied belly of what has been had.

Abby Rodriguez (September 2014)

Company of the Country Wave in Wellington, Illinois

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The country wave keeps me company in these transitions of days. This morning I stood on the lawn braiding my hair and a man took it upon himself to pull over and grant me kind words about my twisting red hair before continuing his country cruise.

I repositioned the fuscia-mauve foxgloves three times contemplating  the best arrangement for passersby to catch visual hold of their spotted middle splendor. I could not succeed at pleasing each direction though they bounce now in the soft Wellington, Illinois breeze with their freckled middles bare to anyone caring enough to focus inward. Their bells are a delightful burst among the acres of greening growing corn which lays in rows at my feet. With my legs stretched outward I can see a rowed home for each of my thighs through the corn sprouts that seem to stretch on forever- even past the silos in the distance, past that other homestead, and the other; further through the prairie my body runs on. Last night we traipsed through these thigh high grasses with Sunny bouncing in between while we breathed in the sunset.

Within my hour and forty-five minute drive from Antiquity Oaks in Cornell, Illinois to Wellington, Illinois I attempted digesting where I have been, what was, and where I was headed – which, of course, was too dense of a meal to chew through in a minimal amount of time. I found it more advantageous to find a neutral space between the clouds, crepuscular rays, and the weather systems far reaching their dance among the fields. Contagious weeps of sun touched down to the fresh green fields while tornadoes of dust kicked up a previous season’s forgotten corn husks, catching and whipping against my vehicle writhing in the wind. The strength of the atmosphere threw birds backwards in flight. I watched them struggle forth before submitting to the current, but they all eventually swung back with the greater rhythm of the earth. There was a nervousness in the grip of my steering wheel and how I would swallow my saliva. It was as tenuous as the rest of my surroundings.

Each time I find myself in a new space the first week is what I refer to as The Million Year Week. Routine is null, everything is new. Exhilaration, terror, and delight co-create a stretch of days to garble time. The bruises of my body linger from the goats and awkward stumbles working at Antiquity Oaks. The indigo turned tertiary islands and continents are a physical stamping reminder of the path walked for months before arriving to this space. The hearty spinach in my bed of eggs, grown from these nearby Iroquois County fields, are a reminder of how I got to Wellington yet again. It is a place I never thought I would return to, yet is now a place where I rest my head at night. The interconnection of this life and world is sometimes too eerie and synchronicity too bold to ignore. With the pull of a heart it is absolutely why and how I find myself here today with thighs extending into the rows of corn.

For me, it is easier to live guided by the heart when there is a great pull in one direction or the other (as I am sure it is easier for all of us in this way). When the frequencies get fuzzy, however, so can the inner turbulence of the path traveled. The pressure rises to make a decision, to make the Right One. I have learned that all steps lead to another and so in this way each heel in the dirt is the correct press, even if it leads to discomfort or pain, it is part of one’s path. Sometimes all you can do is make stillness your move and listen in again for how the frequencies have settled and reevaluate direction of path. One of my quotes is from Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed you are living in the past, If you are anxious you are living in the future, If you are at peace you are living in the present.” (I know this quote is not apt for every situation, but sometimes it helps me to realize if I am wrapped in a negative mental pattern born of habit.)

My coffee shines an oil from the buttered egg that met my lips at breakfast and it swirls with me now. Each time I find my heart and mind in that space of Problem Solving I cycle through a series of questions and meditations for self soothing – back to my inner core of comfort, a consultation of the gut, focus on the present moment. Or, I engage in an externally peaceful activity like planting flowers with my fingers in the dirt, weeding, or catching Sunny’s chocolate eye color in a decisive ray destined for his face to glow outward to me and melting me in the middle. These moments of presence connect to my contentedness, even while feeling many other emotions simultaneously. These moments are my breath in the whirlwind of change.

I met a woman this week who bestowed us with flowers to plant, seeded from her own; buckets of bulbs that will be five or six feet by autumn with bright red caps, irises, columbines, and so many others I have forgotten the names of. What I do remember is her tight hug and how our bellies touched as we gripped one another like we both really needed it. Her body felt known to me, like a great Aunt who has taken me under her wing for years. She said that no church could bring her as close to God like she feels when she is in the dirt. I told her this week I bent over the soil saying to myself, “Weedin’ is good for thinkin’, weedin’ is good for thinkin’,” and that’s where I find my universal comforts – among the land and animals, and tending to Love.

I do not have any big answers right now. I have a mixture of insights and inquisitions as garbled as time. I have one foot forward and then another. Some periods of time are not meant for figuring out, but instead require only our simple observation. Stillness and observation are some of the greatest steps despite their perceived companion of inaction.

A cloud drifts across the cornfield and its shadow darkens the greening leaves and deepens the off kilter yellows. It grazes the prairie and wildflowers and touches down its blanket across the cottonwood trees. A train sounds its incoming and unfurls like a prayer flag across the prairie, antiqued with imprints of cross country travel. With its double stacked shipping containers it ribbons like the making of a quilt through the corn. Riffs from a country version of Spanish Harlem blare from a vehicle as the driver throws me another neighborly wave while I check the blooms on the newly planted flowers and smile at their hard work of blossoming overnight, or perhaps opening early morning to give us an early reward for the day. Two bees hover forth sensing new nectar, and Sunny bleats his still young song as a request for chest rubs and companionship with his mama – which I answer to with satiation. He falls asleep in my lap as a result making small nasal whimpers like he did in the rocking chair as a baby. I start soaking the lentils for supper and thawing the meat for others to eat. I cut quilt squares to prepare as a gift for the woman who gifted us beautiful flowers.

Step by step, meal by meal, chore by chore, conversation by conversation, love by love, making by making, observation by observation. Inquisitions will always remain, but simply being present in these moments is my guide for now. In the distance, someone plays a harmonica, which feels like a hug from my Grandpa Coleman, a moment in which I can just sit and sip the nectar thereof, while life continues on.