Conversations about Seeds--In honor of the International Day of Biological Diversity
Seeds and language diversity are woven together in my experiences and in this excerpt from the novella When Dirt Met Star. The conversation is between living expressions of seeds, both acknowledged and not, with origins, both valued and not.
Once upon a time we were all family. The grasses. Family. Corn. Family. And we, wheat. Grass. Family. Life is stable as a grass. Roots stretch out, stretch deep. No matter what comes, we bend. We bend and we survive. Grasses. We twist around each other. We lay down, but stand back up.
The vibrations came, but it took time for them to matter. The rutted wheels rolled round. Their own hands bled into us with hands ripped from cutting, shucking, slicing. They took but they gave too. Now, it’s only a myth, a fairy tale, that the footsteps used to bleed like us. A vague sensation of the pull of a harness strapped in the pull that equals the push of boots pressed down.
“Why did you migrate?” we hear the boy ask the girl. We already know the answer, but listen for a whisper swish anyway.
“We followed the water.”
Like her brownness, for a time we were in excess too. Piles of wealth. Then, we were tossed. Piles of waste. What changed? Something around us. Something within us. That’s the gap. The gap of memory.
A girl and a boy without names. We don’t ask. They don’t ask. They simply pass through, ramble along. Alone. Their bodies introduce their energies with the sweep of fingertips. The boy. There’s something between him and us. It’s a sensation that digs. For a moment there’s a name. Borlaug. There’s a contribution. Migration. There’s a payment. Water. Fertilizer. There’s an end to ourselves as we knew us. There’s a surplus. Labor. Hands.
Something insufficient within us. The girl squats so her nose rests just above us. Her breath is warm. It reeks of riot, of lacking, of sweat and sour milk. She speaks, “There was an old belief you had to grow wheat for the place it was to be grown, nowhere else. Funny when other seeds travel so far. Why was wheat to remain in its place?”
The stems nearest her chin flick and flake. Pollen and dust are a sort of rust floating on the wind. The boy only watches. These are stories he’s hearing for the first time. They’re not real to him. Our memories are fairy tales.
The girl continues, “Do you know how to pollinate wheat?”
The boy’s hair shakes the way a hand must to answer the question she asks.
“They snip and bring the male to the female.”
Snip and snap the female waits. We don’t know which of us is which, we simply know we must be together. Each energy. Each stem. We never made decisions of the kind that were decided about us.
“Why change them?” the boy finally asked. “What wasn’t enough?”
“We have to cross here.” She steps away.
Those rough original hands were never supposed to leave us. This was done for them. We bent our heads. Stems couldn’t straighten, couldn’t straighten out the old men’s backs. Extra energy to the fruit. Extra energy to the future. They left us anyway.
DNA holds memory. GMO disrupted our story. Forgotten. Our life is still lived in cycle but its circle doesn’t hold lives within, it simply marks the gaps where we once lived. Everyone mentions the future and yet somehow no one mentions the future in the past.
The girl speaks, “We had to leave. That was the first time some of my family left for the Boxes. We couldn’t live. Then, we couldn’t grow life. Hurry, they demanded. We have to cross.”
The boy stops.
The girl continues, “Nothing was ever enough for their kind of hunger. They made piles of everything to attempt to fill that hole. Freedom. Bodies. Fertilizer. Water, so much water.”
“Abuela used to say that when I thought I was hungry, I was actually thirsty,” the boy doesn’t yell this, but the words spatter against us.
“Many who know what real hunger feels like, don’t know what it means. Many who think they know what hunger feels like, don’t know what their hunger costs.”
The boy asks, “Why aren’t you ever hungry?”
A pop. A shot. Fired. Fires.
The girl’s shape disappears from our wavering horizon. “Get down.”
The boy must have followed. Must have pressed that slight skin of separation upon the ground we shared. For a moment, we caught his essence. Dirt. Ours had been dead for so long. Dirt. The emptiness within our cycle, closed itself, if only slightly, before the orange flash cast for a second a less stark shade upon our waves of grain.
G M O
We slept near running water in a field ditch last night, but I didn’t really sleep. I don’t want to sleep. I can’t sleep. It’s the same and it’s different. I blame my stomach. It never knows when it’s empty or when it’s full anymore.
I toss and turn back and forth from one to the other. Can’t. Want. Won’t. Don’t. For no reason I remember my desk at school. The letter ‘x’. Words removed. Three more letters’ names. G M O. Clapping when I remembered them. Smiles when I wrote them. G M O.
“Just breathe,” a whisper from somewhere sweeps across my ear. I raise my hand and catch a piece of something. Dirt? In the darkness, I can’t tell. The corners of its shape don’t chip away and fall. It’s solid. It’s formed. Carried by the wind.
I press the shape between my fingers. It rolls, then nestles between the weave of the snowflake gloves. I sense it on my skin. Words that rise like bumps if I could read. I can’t read. Not many letters. Even those I am allowed to remember, and repeat left my memory long ago.
“Just listen,” this time it’s not breath but rhythm. Heartbeat rhythm pressing on my thumb. The heartbeat that flows through waters in the shape of roots in each arm, each leg, my trunk.
In the morning, I recognize the shapes felt in my fingers, caught in my skin, somehow woven into Star's hair. Thick like ants, their shapes twirl over and under each thick strand. At first, from a distance, the shapes give the impression of dust. When the sun rises and I move closer, the hair instead appears grayer, older. The shadow of lines on her face before she brushes the strands back behind her ear is a familiar face.
“Believe what?” I speak before I breathe and garble the words.
Star turns anyway. “I didn’t say anything.” She smirks a little.
“What’s in your hair?”
“You say that like it’s normal.”
“They’ve always been there.” She knows I hadn’t. She’s pleased. “Haven’t you noticed before?” She smooths her palms over the textures in her hair. “How do you think I know where to take us?”
“The books. The maps.”
“Ah. Those. Even if you don’t understand them. You know them to hold answers because others who you think had answers kept them. The seeds speak to the wind.” Star exhales slowly and continues, “We, like all creatures, carry seeds, but we were the second soul to carry them. The wind did it first. “And now your gloves. The gloves made of what you call snowflake thread. They’re made of roots that remember what it’s like to be real. The things you touch remember it too.”
I want to add something else I know I remember. “Monoculture was the last word I learned in school,” I offer. “You know I can’t read these words, but time is counted in dirt coated nail bits larger in number than the stars we glimpse.” And, I’m good at counting.
“Your soul breathes in the pages. My teeth are the words to break over the bones, over and over again.”
“Then why can’t I read the books. If my fingers can call on history, heritage, on roots?”
“Don’t know.” She bites her lip. The dry skin tugs a line of pinkish red ink. Her tongue sweeps out to catch its salt. “Maybe those words aren’t rooted in truth. Like the boxes, the seeds, artificial, never real. So, they’re nothing you can give me.”
I laugh a little, remembering how my teacher told my father to never expect anything from me. She told him I couldn’t focus. That I preferred to stare out the window.
“The only really living and the never living.” Abuela had described the world. Maybe I could tell the difference. And, with the snowflake thread, I can make the difference. Lines. Fence lines. Map lines.
“What about the stars?” I open my eyes wide.
“What about them?”
“Do you believe in following them?”
“I follow you.”
“You think I’m a star?
“They guide us. You guide us.”
“Dirt, seeds, stars, it’s all the same.”
I crawl towards the edge of the water almost gray in morning light and dip my fingers in. The snowflake gloves shimmer green for a moment as if sucking in an instant energy that escapes as quickly as it came. “Can we at least boil the water this morning? I’m cold. Maybe I’m getting sick.” The more we move, the colder the air becomes. I don’t know if it’s the place or another Shift coming.
“No. You can’t boil the water.”
“It makes the bad blood stronger. Your roots need to be strong without it.”
“What bad blood?”
“The blood spilt before and after the green revolution.”
“But this is water, not blood.”
“In your body, it’s the same. If you boil either one, the dangerous ingredients, elements come together quickly. Concentrate. That’s where the idea of blue monsters was born. If you were sick, what your abuela do?”
“I would rest under the tallest tree in the field. Abuela told me stories at the roots of an oak tree.”
“Or, maybe they weren’t stories. Maybe they were true things that only she remembered. Seeds she carried. We are doing what creatures have always been created to do. Carry seeds. Come. I want to go home. And, the mycorrhizae are waiting.”
“Mycorrhizae help root systems. When seeds become roots, you will need them.”
I watch a seed from Star’s hair slip away from the edge of her ear and brush past my cheek before nestling atop my collar. Long grasses deeper underneath than over wilt and whisper, “Listen.”
“G M O.”
“What? What did you say?”
“Time to go,” Star answers. “It’s time to go.”