farmer love letter

3 November 2018

Dear collaborators, co-authors of this acre, these years, crop plans and field maps,

What ceremony can mark this end when the living of it has been ceremonial daily? Approaching the November garlic planting I'm plunged into the rituals of our shared time: the bulb harvest in July— truckloads of seaweed we pulled from the Sakonnet estuary and spread on the rows— herbs I send to sick friends, and brew myself. What ritual of ending could possibly mark this sprawling vessel— container whose body has been my life?

Abundance from the field reaches my kitchen casually, as if it were not an expression of the most profound generosity of this earth. Imprints of your manifold generosities reach me too. When I am slow enough, I am cognizant of your touch. Fertility we built together over time, labors of picking and washing, foresight, coverage, each method we chose, the close the attentions they demand. In this past decade my body has exposed its weaknesses, its needs. Our landscape has been a precious opportunity to understand my vulnerabilities, and also to develop the forms of strength accessible to me. The food we grew has been my most reliable medicine. How grateful I am for the care you have taken of me, and the space we made to arrive in ourselves, our bodies, our work, to open our lives to land, to history: exposure to the painful and beautiful mechanisms of our world and lives.

We have been so well fed, and have done the work of translating— in the languages of plants and weather— between the cycles of the earth and our city people's lives. Such strange work it has been sometimes to translate ourselves between the worlds we straddle.

Today food sticks in my throat. I took for granted what it has been— the broad experience— to have every meal imbued with touch of your hands in this dirt we inherited from a history of violence; soil we contributed to, that repaid us in fruit.

I know I lose this form, not its content. Seasons will turn; you will have your hands in soil and labor; we will be companions on this planet in whatever work we open to. Losing the form, not the content, though the content of it has meant so much. Each lesson and body of wisdom— about plants, collaboration, injustice, reconciliation, and resilience— will be with me. It still scares me to release ritual— physical space— the guarantee of a long Monday in the field, yielding in October, scent that reminds me of a quality of light, a lung feel, habits that have been the only reliable spine in the various tumult of my life: heartbreak, illness, deaths of our friends, volatile family, cacophonies of our world.

I am grateful especially for the twin lessons of yielding and resistance that I have learned on this land with you. To labor, to one another— our individual characters— to the ways our society pushes institutions away from ethical behavior, and towards extraction and exploitation. We have resisted, we have yielded. We have taught one another resistance and yielding. We negotiated circumstances we could and could not solve. We have been thrust into situations as holders of land, watchers of weather, vendors of nourishment, and keepers of some wisdoms.

One way I know I have loved a book is when— upon reading the final page— I find myself experiencing brief ejaculatory tears, like the quick summer storms that drive us momentarily from the harvest, into the shed to watch light tear the sky. In an experience of literature, it is not loss I mourn in these final moments. No part of me yearns to have this experience again, to revisit the text I just finished with a virgin mind. There is no fantasy of purity: no illusion that I could possibly start over and move through the same space and time again.

The feeling is one of humility and gratitude: a sense that I have been served with unnamable generosity in the form of actual years of an author's life— their imagination and most treasured thoughts and intentions manifested within the pages of a book. Characters' stories for the duration of my reading (or forever) become also mine: forms against which I test and examine the rhythms of my own perceptions, sensations, values, opinions.

The same sort of tears, the same sensation of grandiose awe, strikes me when I consider the end of our farm. Except it is more personal, more directed, more attached to my physical body, more enduring, and more imprinted on me.

The world we built is so made of our hearts, our time, our muscles. Each new pivot, each parcel and project— Harrison Street, Seekonk, camp, animals— was the fruit of a seed germinated as a private intention, and fostered in this radical collectivity. Sidewalk Ends has been a more authentic home for me than any I've ever occupied. In the word home I include dimensions of pain, and struggle, and real conflict that have been part of the mortar of our shared lives.

This container has deeply held other facets of my life. How many times I descended into the field in a state of utter desolation: to prune tomatoes literally weeping: over my father, my loves, disappointments, exhaustions, various personal and depersonalized horrors of the planet. Through this decade of my life, our work has been the reliable constraint. We have known the healing rinse of rain, warm sun, ways in which the exercise of labor stretches our tendons of pain into more flexible form. This lesson is among the most valuable to me. Our mutual gentleness, our capacity to slow time in the field, the generosity and compassion shared between us and with the earth taught me indelible lessons about how I wish to be in the world.

Grief upon losing this frame is as material as the food we've grown, the soil we've touched. It is as lived and felt as the hours we've spent upon it. It feels unfarmerly and narcissistic to mourn— as if anything real were ending. Nothing except the most tangible things are closing: our joint bank account, the schedule that has been the springboard and constraint in the patterning my other [winter, writerly] lives. I am so grateful for the schedule: for our mutual exigency and silliness, for the incredible— I mean literally: barely credible— devotion we practiced together. Devotion to one another, to acts of agriculture, to work ethics we test and stand behind, to ideals of a world that we have sequestered for ourselves and the vulnerable people around us, to a vast future. Transformative justice feels impossible from nearly every vantage: from the drivers seat of my car, from the lap pool, from my bed or desk. It is with my hands in soil and seaweed, in companionship with you all, that I have tasted the first flavors of peace.

T

G(u)arden Log

[Below is an essay I wrote as part of the program for a dance piece entitled G(u)arden, performed by the Low Mountaintop Collective in downtown Providence last week. The dancers built a garden onstage out of trash, and used their bodies to move through histories of colony and resilience on this land. As part of their preparation process, they came to the garden and rebuilt a section of our dilapidated fence. I am grateful to these artists for alerting me to the choreography of the plants around me, and the dance of my daily work.]

 

THIS WEEK WE PUT THE FIRST SEEDLINGS IN—and just like that again food will come out of the ground. The garden has mostly its last death still on it— fall's yellow stalks felled and frozen until now. But under them are new leaves— the herbs, the weeds. That green, you can walk every aisle of the store and never see it.

What was her name, the woman I belong to, who could cure with plants the rash this man has. A grandmother's name— what better was there to memorize? Than the smell of her, which came from the land into its animals. The story of the arriving of one's own life is a good story.

But this garden is the garden I was born to today— plastic frays and disintegrates into the dirt. Our dog carried over a nest she found containing the sinewy skeletons of two baby birds strangled by a strand of our tarp. I have killed here; I have planted, picked and planted again. I eat lots of greens and little pieces of polyethylene. In rain I am half happy, half feel dirtier after, damp with acid and soot. This field, this city, I am its animal. I have a smell. I have a nod for the dandelion coming up against the curb.

The weather changes rhythm again like a drunk drummer— all I can promise you of spring is that eventually your feet sink into it. Some dances our bodies remember, like the high knee step of mud. Some dances we are taught— my crops in drought did choreograph thirst. They hit the ground soft, one leaf at a time, they often survived but sometimes died.

Observing closely death makes a prism of the heart— rage is one of the lightwaves that breaks through. Rage for what we forgot, the dancers murmur, and I start a list for my fathers: the precise place we came from, its seasons, its dances, the reason we left or the reason we came, what we did when we got here, what they were like (the bad years), how we got through, what we ate, what makes us ashamed, my grandmother's grandmother's name.

The best answer is soil. Soil and soil, we came from, our grave. This land has had many killings— most of its trees are young. So I am on my knees this week, putting in seeds. Digging out the dark earth worms turned for us last fall. Taking some trash to the landfill. Taking other trash— that apple core, that cardboard, that once-humming form— and letting it curl back into the earth to unfurl again and unfurl.

L

I know a guy

Is what we joke the mobsters say. Is the nepotism famous in our state. I know a guy is how anyone becomes president, how anyone wins. It is the knit cap with eyeholes that all the real thieves are wearing, their power suit. I know a guy— colloquialism for privilege— it's in a handshake, hidden cash— white power + patriarchy passing bills back and forth.

Power relies on our isolation, our dependence, our last dollar. If we don't know a guy, we have to buy: food + medicine + booze + gas + infant formula + abortions + legal help + bail. We have to buy internet, and then search it obsessively for a beating heart.

But it's not just the gangsters and billionaires who know a guy. It is actually an age-old attitude of resilience. Everyone whose people have survived under conditions where power preferred them dead or submissive has survived because of the network of care fostered in service of survival. It is also a profoundly agricultural attitude— it is only since I started farming that I really began to understand the subversive reciprocity that is possible in community. This season I "knew a guy" who could drive my hogs to slaughter and a guy who could slaughter them and a guy who let me butcher by her side. I knew a guy with a basement full of grow lights when my greenhouse fell through. I knew a bunch of guys also trying to grow vegetables in a drought, each with helpful advice. I knew a guy with a pie. I knew a guy with manure, a guy with leaves, a guy with a post-hole digger. I knew an elder with herb knowledge, I knew a child with good ideas about the shape of a garden.

I know a self-taught HVAC expert; I know a guy who reads law all night for fun. I know three plus herbalists, four plus masseurs. I know a guy who really knows her history. I know 3+ DJs, 5+ drummers, at least a flash mob's worth of ass-shakers. Several well-read intersectional feminists. A lot of poets. My sister got in the truck the morning after the election and said "Well. I guess I've got to study law." Another friend said she's learning nursing. Another, midwifery and abortions. There is what you know and what you are ready to learn.

I woke to Trump-elect and did a quick inventory of what I've got:

How to can tomatoes— write poems— bake bread— large-item bike transport— wintertime ocean swim to confirm you are alive— vegetable tips— moon-howl— a recipe for dandelion wine— books for many occasions— amateur tarot— last-minute Seekonk campout— a buddy at the poetry slam— hangin out with your kid— amateur officiant at your queer love ceremony— white friend at your sucky confrontation with a racist dude— sure I will do the North-South trail with you and bring good snacks—

and that's just what's legal. Depending on who you are, I might be your guy deep, beyond the reach of what can be printed.

I want to practice saying that: "I'm your guy." And also asking are you my guy when I need something. Just in case obamacare crumbles and food stamps disappear and ICE shows up and the cops multiply; in case we encounter even more frequently the many faces under the knit mask. Two can play the favors game.

We can meet online, but we also have to be face to face and hold each others' babies. We have to meet at the soil, around a fire, around actual hot food reading poems.

This is all to say that Sidewalk Ends Farm is here for you— we know some stuff and have some stuff and know a lot of awesome people who also know and have a lot of caring skills + useful tools. One of the young women at our camp pointed out that spade forks make good riot tools— just sayin. HMU.

 

 

L