Think of straw and a lot comes to mind; horses, cows, sweepin’, itchin’, it getting’ all over every part…part of life. Don’t often think on how even straw can mock a man. Rakin’ it, smellin’ it, seein’ the particles of it floatin’ in the light through the window. Used to think this was my church and that was part of the chorus of the angels of life. Now it’s nothin’ so much as the sneering of devils. Every time I brush a bit off me, I think about the bits I picked out his hair…
Horse in the stall next to me shuffles its hooves, and I’m brought out of my reverie. This’ll be the third summer since I shoveled straw a’side someone, and there isn’t a morning that goes by where I don’t wanna to just lie down in this bed of torment and misery, just lie there until I get carried away, somewhere far away.
But a man can’t expect to get carried. Man’s got to take care of his own. As if it can hear me, the horse gives a singular exhale through its nostrils. ‘Man’s got to take care of his own.’ I exhale through my own nostrils. Horseshit. How’s a man supposed to fight God? How’s a man supposed to make it rain? We killed this land. Tore it up ‘til it couldn’t take no more.
It’s here I belong, among the skeletons of towns, in this land God forgot. It’s where we all belong, even if some had the good sense to get goin’ while they still had goin’ left in ‘em. We did this. Much as we want to blame thems what sit in the capital, this is our land. We live it, we know it. Never should have said yes.
Maybe if those machines had dried us out instead of drying out the earth it would’ve been different. Maybe if it had affected the children immediately…people would have stopped. By the time the dust was traveling in storms it was too late. People had seen its power and were blinded to its purpose. I put down the broom, reach for a nearby milkin’ stool, and sit on it.
We should have been dried out and killed, not the land, not the children. The machine decides who lives and who dies, who has to hold their wife and watch the life ‘n humor drain out her eyes. They change – get filled with grief, anger, despair, and then, eventually…they go blank. No fire, no passion, hardly even resignation. As empty as the fields they look out on.
Seeing the love of your life die a little every morning, rising to make breakfast, no longer setting a third plate. Dying a little when she looks out her window at the half empty laundry line. Feeling like you’re living in a graveyard but unable to bear the thought of moving. Would have only thought such things possible in Hell, but I suppose there’s not much of a distinction now. I start pickin’ straw out the rope in my hands the thoughts swirl in my head.
Even now, with the land dead and poisoned, they don’t care. They send out their men with stiff shoes and soft handshakes. They use harsh words, not knowing, or caring, what used to be on ‘Lot 234-8’. Used to be a place. Used to be a home. She used to sing, and she would sing every song she knew, and when she ran through, she’d sing ‘em again. I fell in love with her voice. I already loved every other bit of her, and then she went and made me love that too.
She hasn’t sung a note since the day he died. So here we are, two souls lying at the edge of a great and dark precipice, barely clinging on, and here comes a man sweating through his pressed shirt, telling us we’re in ‘arrears’. It’d be one thing to cling to one another in times like that, but that seems like heresy now. I don’t know when we decided that, but it might as well be carved in stone. I check to make sure the knots good and tight, and climb up on the stool.
The rope chafes as it slips over my head, a grim smile grows, and I kick the stool over.