the hum of high wires
the hum of high wires
Okay. Okay. 10 p.m. A small plane strums some old symphony over Sycamore Street, the stuff I never listened to. Dade and I laughed about that, the music of planes, the music of katydids in the June noon, the music of rattling cabbage trucks at dawn, the rhythm of pumpjacks and irrigation pumps, the syncopated whine of locusts, the hum of high wires and highways. Dade could take anything and turn it into music. I just sang. The summer of our own symphony was the summer Uncle Ralph hired us to stand at the end of rows of cabbage and yellow squash and cotton green ripe and wave red flags, markers for his day to day job poisoning bugs from an old yellow biplane floated over acres of the food he said got you where you are today. Dusted hard in poison we sneezed and spun light-headed and no one thought to say wait a minute back then. Here we were, mother and Aunt Georgia thinking we were packing boxes of citrus and avocadoes, when we were really eating live insecticide like we were the culprits. So we made music to make our days pass under the lazy floating almost not-flight of that old biplane under high wires, flipping, returning, ready to open another tank, made music as wild and tinny and edged as our days standing in infrared sand at the end of rows of ripping-your-nostrils-open onions and cabbage, and the sweet-rotten-smell of melons in the summer sun not really even summer yet if you looked at a calendar. Dade would stomp the dry valley dust and wait for the sun to churn it into homemade dust-devils, but never happened, sun made its own somewhere else. Dade just made blowing dust with a beat so hard, insistent and incessant that it’d lull you to sleep waiting between Uncle Ralph's trips back to refill, or meant playing along, swept up in it walking row to row never missing 'cause that meant two hard things, Ralph losing his profit on a double-sprayed row or burning out a row. And we’d hear about it. So we just walked and pounded out Dade's rhythm, and I sang, not high sweet like a mockingbird but like some cackling green jay deep in the ebony woods across the ditch that spit out the water filled the dusty holes and rows with gritty mud. The mud sugar cane takes and boils down in the Hidalgo County sun to a pineapple taste so fine you can eat it straight out of the ground, and I sang that sweet-lips song not sweet like cane but like it was just pure music, and Dade never cared, and sang hard and gruff and edged too, angry and forgiving, giving up and giving in. Uncle Ralph laughed like that, hard and edged, spat caramel spit and the first cusswords I ever knew what they meant, and laughed at us, couldn't do nothing but laugh and cuss Uncle Ralph, couldn't do nothing but, and when that plane just missed, snagged a wire, and spun into the tower and didn't explode like you'd think, just thudded to the ground, was the first time Dade's rhythm didn't work for us, first time singing made no sense, first time words ran away, first time I panicked and froze at the same time, wanted to help but knew better, knew there wasn't any helping this time, first time not wanting to know, not wanting to see, beat out having to see everything in the world you never seen before, like a woman whole, not just flat pieces of glossy, stapled paper or wishes through thin cloth, or someone dead, really dead, not funeral home dead, or a foreign country that doesn't want you there, or the stares of deep hatred, because this time you know, you really know, and you figured out that the knowing is what keeps you from the seeing. Dade was like that too. Took off running, ran a hundred yards, plus or minus a hundred yards, before he stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to look at me, to say come on what are you waiting for, but looking-asking why didn't you hold me back, both of us needing the reason, the excuse, the hope, the wish, the whatever it takes, to keep us from having to speak up or make amends because we might have been needed, might have done something, might have prayed, or cried or sang or touched a bloody cheek with a goodbye or lay there and talked of the sky and what mighty work lay ahead fixing that old squash-colored vehicle of crazy dying in our arms, and having no one to explain what everything that happened happened because of, or why we weren't doctors or surgeons or saints or angels now that we were both fourteen and in our hard young years finally and starting to beat and sing with the voice of five thousand days of knowing that moments like these are the only ones that a heart keeps, not silent kisses, there’re too many, or making love, never really, or delivering babies, overwhelming in the blood, or pride, who needs it. No, maybe only telling lies and the lies that make them necessary, maybe only lies stay in the heart like single truths, like planes falling from your life and taking the only real things with them, and the knowing that real is only real when it’s gone and not one single moment before, not in fields of cabbage, not in seas of laughs, not in skies of passion or oceans of change, not one flash of a tiny less-than-a-second before loss is anything once and forever whole or true or real or called love. Never.
Published online at Unlikely Stories, 2003
Version published in Chachalaca Poetry Review (as High Drone & Caramel Spit), 1998
Version published in the Little Bow River Thumbnail Series (as High Drone & Caramel Spit), 2002