Whatever our affection and reverence for nature, we must acknowledge that, for humans, nature is not easy to live with. It is hard…
—From the essay, “Preserving Wildness,” by Wendell Berry
Here I sit thinking, while drinking, again. It’s before noon, so the chemical this latter-day Hayduke wannabe is quaffing is coffee, bought for three dollars.
The barista boy is talking to a girl. She has asked what the song playing on the sound system is. He responds “‘Swing Tree,’ by Discovery.” I write that down so I can include it in a future story. So there you go.
I read Wendell Berry and wonder why the world isn’t nicer, now. I wonder why folks just can’t keep things like they were.
“Do you speak Chinese?” When I feel the feminine words enter my ears, I know immediately they are the targets. I turn on my stool, I turn on my stool, suddenly conscious of: a) the discrepancy between the tone of the damsel’s voice and age; and b) the shirt I’m wearing. My dad gave it to me as a souvenir from a business trip he took to Japan. I try to smile but am too tired to do that as I would like. I say to the girl, “No, I don’t. Do you?” She says, “Yes,” and explains how her family used to live in Beijing because of her father’s work. I sip my coffee and when she finishes speaking I ask her if she can translate my shirt. The dark humorist side of me hopes that the script is a vulgar Confucian spoof, perhaps He who tickles his tar-star knows how the past stains the present.
The girl is saying something about a stream and I’m watching an ambulance drive by. When she walks away, Richard Brautigan darts, brook trout-like, into my brain. Not “Flowers for Who You Love,” but…
It’s Raining in Love
I don’t know what it is,
but I distrust myself
when I start to like a girl
It makes me nervous.
I don’t say the right things
or perhaps I start
what I am saying.
If I say, “Do you think it’s going to rain?”
and she says, “I don’t know,”
I start thinking: Does she really like me?
In other words
I get a little creepy.
A friend of mine once said,
“It’s twenty times better to be friends
than it is to be in love with them.”
I think he’s right and besides,
it’s raining somewhere, programming flowers
and keeping snails happy.
That’s all taken care of.
if a girl likes me a lot
and starts getting real nervous
and suddenly begins asking me funny questions
and looks sad if I give the wrong answers
and she says things like,
“Do you think it’s going to rain?”
and I say, “It beats me,”
and she says, “Oh,”
and looks a little sad
at the clear blue California sky,
I think: Thank God, it’s you, baby, this time
instead of me.
Then the women of my world pirouette, one by one, through my lucidity, some more gracefully than others. I sigh and spy the note on the back of my hand: Do what you can. I stand, stretch, and take the first steps towards the day’s battle against the mouse who loudly raided my cupboard last evening. I imagine a bucket of water with a cinder block next to it. Extending out over the agua is a light piece of poplar manufactured for use as a paint-stirring implement. At its end sits some peanut butter and brown sugar. I imagine the rodent walking the plank. I imagine its surprise at discovering the ground’s instability. I imagine its fear, terror and eventual resignation that will come as it drowns. I sympathize, but know that life isn’t all romance. I know that everyone dies alone and loses control of what little they had. I know that there is more to night than the absence of light and that the sun also rises. Or as Richard wrote, “That’s all taken care of.”
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.