Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Land and Lyric

How does the land give shape to voice? I left some land, but it didn't leave me.

Listen to these songs as you read.

It is by no means representative of the Texas sound particular or peculiar to the Llano Estacado. I wish there were more women. There could be a Tejano or conjunto band or two. Maybe a gospel singer. But this is what I came up with on the fly.

I am a child of maps. I am longitude and latitude. I am dirt and irrigation. I am plow and furrow. I am the chemicals poisoning the bugs and the weeds. I am the compost, the shit in the fertilizer that helps the good things grow. I am a child of the land. And I am the child of one who did not own land enough to keep him from going to war.

The land seeped into my genetics, hitched a ride on my RNA. My dad’s irrigation pickup, outfitted with pipes and socks, from spigots all damp and dripping from the previous day’s irrigation, smelled of salt and rust and roots. It made my nose run and my eyes itch. It caught in my lungs. My dad reminded me daily that the land would kill him like it did his father. 

"Expect the worst so it don't happen. 'Least you're not surprised if it does."

I learned to stare straight into the sun without sunglasses as I worked the truck’s unreliable transmission when I was six. I met the sun and all its difficulties head on. I had the resolve because I heard the murmurs, “Damn shame she’s not a boy.”

I pulled the weeds. I moved the irrigation pipe. I drove trucks before my feet could reach the pedal. I worked “like a man.” The land was mine.

Maybe. But not really. No. Not ever.

I am a child of dust and grit and sweat and bitterness. I am the sour palate of white trash, of one who worked the land without being a part. I am an unmentionable race. But, I exceed boundaries. Yet, I am no one. Not really. My roots run shallow. Family literacy, a newfound event, only a few generations old. My college degrees a shiny medal, an inviolate totem.

My accent always gives me away. But I’ve stopped caring. I’ve bigger fish to fry.

“Why can’t you do better?” I hear them say in the same breath as “You’re getting above your raising.”

I would do better to pull devil’s claws from someone’s field. I am no better than what I was. But I never reckoned myself as something to measure against another person's labor. 

I am the latest in a collection of foremothers whose land makes music I cannot deny.

I left the land, yet the story follows.

I pull the weeds. I smell the rain. I put down the words.  I raise all hell.

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