This machine kills…

Folksinger Woody Guthrie played a guitar labeled, stirringly, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”

And this machine — rented from the locally owned hardware store down the street — can chop up some fierce foes as well….

This machine kills the vague ennui of too much solitude.  It kills the self-disgust of totting up accounts and realizing this spring is going to be leaner than you thought.  It kills the burning anger that there are too many of Them and not enough of You and They don’t care how they poison the world for the rest of us because They believe They can just retreat from the world in their gated communities while everything else goes to hell.  It churns the worrying ghosts of daughterhood and career and the next twenty years and love and not-love and the revisions your novel still needs and the eleven million projects stacked up behind it and the check that just will not arrive and the imaginary narratives in which anger invites you to luxuriate and That Which Won’t Happen After All and That Which You Can’t Do Anything About, Goddammit, Although You Tried, and the resolutions you broke today, again, and every fear that keeps you thrashing sleeplessly into the night.  It kills the flush of guilt that follows recognition of these fears: you, unimaginably privileged by the standards of the rest of the world, safely away from Japan and from Libya, are bitching and moaning yet again.

But it hurts, howls the reptile-brain.  I know, say your own strong hands on the tiller. Chop up the new ground now, cause you won’t have another chance till planting time.  This is the summer you learn to can, for real.  And now you’ll have even more room to grow. That wiser self inside you — who looks a little like Pema Chodron, a little like Reverend Carol, a little like Hannah Arendt, and a little like Loretta Lynn — sets her hands on your shoulders and gives you a little shake.  Come on.  This is just one more step in becoming the woman you are meant to be.

You fire up the tiller and dig it in and let it rip.  One more width of newly tilled soil all around each perennial bed, for the finicky poppies you will try again this year and the peonies you’ll divide from the patch by the garage (have you really been living here that long?) “Send me some seeds from Seed Savers,” your sister has urged over the phone, “and I’ll plant them and by the time you come down here this summer we can do some canning together.  I want to learn too.”

Two hours later, this machine leaves your hands with a satisfying ache and a ring in your head despite the earplugs.

And it leaves you feeling firmly replanted in your own rich soil.

7 thoughts on “This machine kills…

  1. Beautiful. There is nothing like the raw energy of working with the ground to help us trounce (or at least sedate?) the demons we all wrestle with. Love this. You are so rich in many ways–talent, wisdom, beautiful dark black Iowa soil, and otherwise, my dear!!!

  2. I was reminded of this little thing.

    “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these” – Emily Dickenson

    There’s truth in there which makes me smile — just like all the writing and writhing and hope you’re sharing.

    And thanks for the shout-out – I’m loving it!
    R. Carol

  3. I’m a Luther alum, English major and the father of Siri Carlson. Found your wonderful blog by way of the English department newsletter. Great reading! Thank you! PLEASE keep it up! And, by the way, you are right: there are simply times when getting needed and useful work done with a small internal combustion engine helping you–tiller, chainsaw, lawn mower, snowblower–brings an inner peace and satisfaction which can’t be found any other way.

    1. Hello! Siri is one of my all-time favorite students, and I appreciate so much your reading and taking the time to write this note. So glad you like it! Thanks for being a part of it!

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