Sep 15, 2004

Didn't notice it was dead or didn't care

The wind blew down blue from the north and the earth woke up frozen. The morning was iced over in a fierce ugliness – the frosted-up cellophane-looking ice shell suffocating the trees, crusting the concrete, and sealing in shock the brown grass of winter. The houses looked freezer-burnt, everything was closed and the roads forsaken to salt.

I don’t remember if that was the winter they threw us out of that church, or the winter we hawked Mom’s guitar for rent and rice or some other one, but it was winter in Texas. January and I was 12 or 13. I put on two flannel shirts, sweat pants and then overalls and laced up my brown boots with yellow-brown laces and got my jacket.

We’d build a chicken coop in the spring, built it from tin and unpainted plywood and treated pine with a floor of somebody’s throwaway oak slats that twisted and bent two brown bags of nails. Past the garden’s fenced-in tangle of the once-living and once-ordered tomato vines and zucchini leaves now rotting black back to dirt, and past the turkey’s coop emptied to the winter wind, their door left open dragging into the dirt since the day we killed them, leaned against the backside of the chicken house, were the construction scraps. Sheets of corrugated tin, with edges sheared sharp, leaned over warping two-by-fours, rolls of chicken wire sinking into the hard-frozen ground and plywood pieces circular sawed to uselessness.

I picked up a plywood piece ripped into the shape of a letter unknown to alphabets, grasped the end and banged into the ground. The wood bent and sprung, flecks of wood colored without pattern flexing flinging off bits of frozen leaves and dirt and poultry feathers. I hit it three times, four times, and brushed it off with my jacket sleeve.

The hill rode down from the porch to the tree where I wasn’t supposed to have carved my name into the bark and to the four-foot high fence that pretended to separate our suburban cut-grass yard from the raccoon, rattle snake and poison ivy filled woods of the gully that drained out to the lake. I put the plywood on the ground, ran up and jumped on, riding the slide down speeding blurring over the ice, past the compost pile, past the tree. At the last moment I rolled off, bailed out, tipped left spilling out sending the board free skating to bounce into the fence.

We spent the whole morning that way. David trying to jump the sled off the compost pile corner and Valerie losing a glove trying to palm a brake into the hill and Michael too little to learn to lean with the steeringless sliding sheet of plywood. Our parents stood on the porch and said how did we not kill ourselves and looked at our bodies bruising with tumbles and faces going red with cold, at our exuberance beating paths into the desolation of a world frigid dormant dead. We pushed each other and raced each other and beat a broken path along the side of the slide, hauling our boards back to the top to do it all over again.