by Isaac Yuen
In the months after life as you know it, you seek to exist as a summer bear, to sprawl in bliss by berry bushes and gorge on nothing but sweet memories. But you are not a bear. You are not equipped with the requisite blubbercoat that shields you from the maul of thorns. And it is now winter. Starving, you continue to make trips into thickets past, but only shriveled husks and stains remain, all long since withered on the vine. Exhausted, you sink deep into torpor, uncertain if you have the reserves to weather a season seemingly without end.
But unlike sloth bears and black bears and solitary bears, you overcome your nature, become a social creature. You reach out to friends with fanciful plans. Some of them ask if you would like to pitch in, turn a half-acre briar patch into a working hobby farm. There is good soil underneath, they say, even if you may not see it now. You take their word, and the work begins. You watch the rental excavator rip apart interlocking tendrils, always at metal arm’s length. Root balls are dragged into light, some puny and some monstrous, none intended to be seen nor pondered upon for long. You are surprised by the size and shapes of unearthed stones, some river-smooth and others chert-sharp, all deposited in the long and forgotten past. As the digger strains to pick one up, the scraping between bucket and stone resembles a wail from a human throat. You wave for them to stop, to let it be. Some things should remain as foundation, while others, like blind sure worms, work best in the subterrain.
With the site prepared, you and your friends begin to forge something new. There are no master plans, no plans at all. A wire fence, they say, to keep out the rats. Some wood chips to lay, to mark down the paths. You throw yourself into tasks that fill body and mind, and over the course of an easy spring, hard work gives rise to small beginnings. Radish seeds and sweet peas spool forth soft threads, greedy for light. Butterflies wink in and out to drink sugar syrup from trumpet flowers. A new commonwealth sprawls forth above ground and underfoot. Yet part of you still yearns for the manic patch of old, wild and invasive, all-consuming.
Things begin to unravel in the dull buzz of the summer heat. The others have moved on to tend to other matters, and many a weekend you arrive alone to see once dormant weeds threatening the tender starts. Thistles and nettles arrive en-mass, jab and sting through sock and glove. While reaching for a trowel to deal with one stubborn uprising, a stray blackberry cane catches your arm, tearing a long and ragged line of fresh beads, crimson drops that on contact with air shrink violently to center, rounding to expose the least amount of surface area possible. To protect the core.
You reel, startled by the ferocity of these agents past. The garden fades as you retreat, back towards that night long ago, soft-lit, when she first turned and smiled at you out of thought and did not speak. Fingers through hair heavy with sleep and promise. The coarseness of it. Vision after vision retrieved like extinct specimens brought back from the world’s brink for display in filigree cages, not to be made right again. The flush of red that once coursed through you then now drains out unstaunched; it flows and flows and will not cease. You flee the garden, wracked with pain unlooked for, and fall.
For a while. You return one autumn day, partly out of curiosity but mostly because you remain who you are, resolving always to see matters to ends. Yet the past is not the present. Instead of a field of weeds, a clover carpet has scabbed over the earth, preventing future weeds from taking hold. Sunflower sprouts have matured into twelve-foot behemoths, beaming cheer over the field of corn and kale. While harvesting long beans and fat gourds, a two-note trill, clear and pure, catches your ear. Fee-bee. You turn to find a chickadee perched upside down on a flower head, watching you watch it. Dee-dee, before it flies forever out of your life.
One late fall day, you weed until sunset, the time when colors and memories meld and deepen. As the reddish glow comes and goes, you take in the dimming of the world, certain that light will come again. The darkness comes on in hushed grades, until one moment you can no longer tend your way. You take your gloves and sit down in the middle of the field, waiting for your eyes to adjust to the night sky, star-lit. For the first time in a long while, your mind shifts towards the future, this winter’s crop, the years beyond.
About the photographer: Fabrice B. Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and many other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, The San Pedro River Review and more than 250 other publications. This photo is titled “Painting the Glass.”