Work, Labor, Play
I never thought of what my father did as “work”. That was done by those we collectively called “the men”. They were, to use my father’s phrase, “laborers”. They dug nursery stock, bound each shrub in burlap, loaded trucks, planted trees; watered, hauled, and sweated. Each year I became more self-conscious of the uselessness of my books, and games and plays. I invented acts in the enormous freedom of afternoons while “men worked”.
That odd look an outsider, an idler, always has around those working, those with authority to be truly still.
Although my childhood was probably typically middle class, I was paralyzed with guilt and self-disgust, in first inklings of class war, caught in reading and watching B-movies like Anastasia, I recognized myself in Marie Antoinette and the last of the Romanovs.
That fall I worked for him and didn’t go back to school. I hauled railroad ties and timbers, boots soaked in creosote; laid brick, Dutch block, sprayed water through candles of pines until the red clay bled through burlap; always fretting and threshing words, repeating lines of Keats’ Ode to Autumn until I’d taste the syllables; September, the milky sweat of rhubarb and rye grass; October, the walnut blue shellac, the flayed red leaves of sumac, into November, carving sod like dirty glass from frozen pallets . . .
green hay steams
against my chest