[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.