Hardly Noticeable

Monday, October 24, 2005


It bothers me now, of course, but then again everything bothers me now. It bothers me that I cannot drink the water directly from the tap without getting violently ill. It bothers me that I wasn’t told that choice bit of information on my first day here and spent the next three puking and shitting and drinking more water to calm my stomach. I am bothered that I have not had a sober moment for forty two hours and can still somehow spit out coherent sentences. That just shouldn’t happen. But it does.
It bothers me that I remember exactly what my father was wearing the day he brought home the chickens. It was a pair of green shorts with a thick, white, horizontal stripe right through the center. He was wearing an old softball jersey with the number 11 on it and HAMMER written across the back. His hair was brown then—it was before he went grey—and it had been recently cut. On his left arm he had three cuts that ran the length of his forearm. They were bleeding, but not badly. It bothers me that I know that he will always have three parallel scars that never tan, no matter how dark the rest of him gets.
And it bothers me that there are exactly zero pictures of me tending my garden. I’ve looked through the albums: there are a remarkable number of photographs from that year. There are pictures of me with a spoonful of oatmeal in my mouth in the morning, pictures of me obscuring my face with a handful of popcorn while pointing at a rhinoceros at the zoo. But none in the garden. There are many pictures from that same year of my mother in various states of elegance. Her black hair is usually drawn up into a stylish bun, her green eyes are looking directly into the camera, separated by the bridge of her thin nose and the petite mole in between her arched eyebrows. My father took fifteen pictures of her like that, with her looking directly into the lens: he was either trying to see into her or look through her.

Two and a half weeks. It took two and a half weeks for me to massage and caress the soil to the point when it finally made a peep. I could hear the shoots cut through that silent soil and breathe the air. They were no bigger around than a tongue, but just seeing them made me grow. I felt like a giant, all four-foot-nine of me. I was God in miniature. In the beginning was the soil and the seed, the water and the silence. And it was formless, so I put up a fence and tilled the land and planted in crooked rows. I heard unspectacular components create the teeming kaleidoscope of life, and it was good. I was awash with green.
I stood guard over those shoots for four days. I took my meals outside beside the garden. The sun burnt my skin and by the second night my ears were brown and scaly, the pus from popped blisters coating the valleys in between the ridges in my ear canal. I wanted to be outside when it rained on those shoots. Absurd as it sounds, that was why I subjected myself to the burning sun, the sun that cut me with daggers of light. I wanted to see it banished behind black thunderstorm clouds and I wanted its silence to be replaced by the drumbeat of raindrops.
After four days of waiting it finally rained. I took off my shoes and crawled through the dirt and threw pea-sized clots of mud at the chickens’ feet. Every time I threw one, without fail, they pecked at it, apparently unable to understand the difference between dirt and food. When I finally went inside my father was yelling at the television screen.

By the middle of July my father had bought a rooster. But he would never have said it like that. He would have said he had bought a cock. I was not there when he bought it, but I know how the transaction must have worked:
“So,” says the chicken farmer, “you need a rooster.”
“A cock, yes,” my father must have said. And, since he sometimes forgets to think before he speaks, he would have continued: “I need a cock.”
At which point the farmer would feign ignorance at my father’s clunky attempt at ribaldry, because he must have been a Midwestern Swede, and Midwestern Swedes don’t mind pretending to be ignorant in order to protect a man like my father from his own stupidity. Then the farmer would say, “I have some California Greys, a Leghorn, some Delawares. I got a couple other breeds, too, but those are the three most popular around here.”
And my father probably looks at him for a moment, not having researched breeds of roosters in the least, not knowing what breed of chicken he had, only stuck on the one word that he had to say again: “Well, I want a nice-looking cock. I have some really nice-looking hens at home, and I want them to have nice-looking chicks. I probably need a nice, big cock for that.”
Eventually, the farmer would figure out that the best way to deal with my father would be to show him the roosters and let him pick one out, because my father is the type of man who needs to see. And so it would go, until the rooster was purchased and brought home.


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