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Neither Here Nor There

I think there might be crickets outside.

Or they could just be car alarms.

New York is sweating off its summer. This great rushing snake, shedding its skin. Underneath, a smooth pink layer of memories. Never memories from here, though. For me it's drive thrus, the swingset outside the junior high where we used to go late at night, the metallic smell that lingered on your hands from grabbing the chains, the woods, deep and dark, high school kids tucking themselves inside with soft packs of Marlboro reds and cans of beer. 

The air at dusk, the light over a solitary water tower. The sound of a parade with its thundering bass drum.

Thunder - real thunder - rolls over the barrier of the Hudson, pinballs through midtown buildings; the rains come and I close my eyes and think of all I ever think of: nights on porches, eating corn, breathing in the smell of rain on grass, earthworms peeking out to say hello.

Fleshy pink. Like a skinned knee.

Yesterday as I was husking ears of corn, I noticed that my posture was all wrong. I was bent over the plastic trashcan in our kitchen, one foot pressed to the foot peddle keeping the lid open. Inside: coffee grounds, empty potato chip bags, two empty grapefruit husks from my morning juice. Outside: the sound of subway wheels clacking against tracks. This was wrong. I should be sat comfortably on the end of a wooden porch, knees rounded, paper bag at my feet waiting to receive silks, husks, the rough stalk satisfyingly snapped clean. There should be birdsong. 

As the water boils, I think I can hear crickets again. Cicadas. Something that lurks in trees; the organic engine of a non-mechanical life somewhere outside my city window. I can't tell anymore if it's real or wishful thinking.

I recently learned about pine trees in Ireland. That many, many years ago, Scots pines grew natively in Ireland, but then something happened, and they were gone, and no one knows how or why. For years, there were no pine trees in Ireland. Then someone decided that Ireland needed pine trees, so they imported entire forests from elsewhere, from Scotland and Norway.

The Irish pine forests are beautiful, majestic. They have the same solemn, cushioned air found in other pine forests all over the world. But I can't help but wonder if these pines ever miss their home.

I find a book of North American trees and flip its pages as the bus putters up Riverside Drive. Slippery elm. Trees of the soapberry family: Buckeyes. Boxelder. The helicopter seeds of maples, like two tadpoles kissing. The hum and cough and paper shuffle of society buzzes around me; a man with an off-track betting book considers the names of horses: First Flute, Capitalism at Risk, Flaming Punch. He puts a star next to Every Little Thing. And I remember every little thing about creek beds, waterstriders, flat rocks concealing crawdads and tadpoles, too.

I read up on sweetgum trees, those staples of park walkways. Fruit 1", long-stalked woody ball of pointed capsules, ripe in fall, persistent through winter.

Like me, I think.

Maybe when fall comes I'll ripen, be less of a cynic about this place. Maybe I'll persist through winter.

Or maybe that idea will stick in my teeth like a kernel of sweetcorn, prodded by a fingernail as the rusted chain of a swing creaks under my imported weight.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

Reader Comments (5)

Loved this. Every last bit.

I can hear the chinking noise of the swing chains and 100% smell that metallic sweaty scent. Brilliant.

August 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersam

holy fuck, I savored this.

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjdg

My husband's work situation isn't ideal - he's not happy there right now. So I started fantacizing about winning the lottery. And then I got sad because then we'd move back "home" to NC, away from Ohio. So I changed my fantasy to winning a smaller amount - just enough to pay off the bills, but we'd still have to work, but it wouldn't be as stressful. Even five years ago I would have been all for moving back to NC, but living in Xenia has just made these roots deeper. VERY weird to me, I have to say!

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Bug

You sound homesick. Any chance for a little break back to the midwest?

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessicaD

Holy evocative. Slightly forced tree metaphor part 2 grabbed my heart.

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPure Klass

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