Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Someone stole a wheel off our green recycling bin. I noticed it as I was dragging the cart to the curb. Someone has been throwing their own old moldy cardboard in with our weeds and green waste.

Someone discards plastic bags and they end up in the garden. Someone smoked a cigarette in our driveway and left the butt. Sometimes I find a beer bottle out on the low stone fence of our front yard.

The night that recycling goes out, people with shopping carts and huge plastic bags slung over their shoulders like pack mules go scavenging through the neighborhood, looking for bottles and cans. Many are older women; Vietnamese, Mexican. Yesterday, it was a petite Mexican woman with her young son, going through our recycling at six in the evening as I put it out. Then they fingered the green figs on the big tree in front, the tree I planted when it was just a tiny gray stick, which has grown in five years, to a towering fruitful presence. I could hear them talking about how many figs were on the tree, how they were waiting for them to become ripe.

When Ruth lived here, one of our favorite things to do was to take walks through her neighborhood and scavenge for fruit. Loquats, figs, blackberries...O taste and see. We only took a few here and there.

Okay, the truth. I feel possessive of my fig tree. I love figs. I want to claim them for myself. I'm afraid someone's going to come and steal them all before I get my share. There's a selfish, hoarding part of me that wants to throw a net over the huge tree and sit under it and eat my own figs until I burst and ooze.

Fortunately, this is impossible. The birds are going to get a lot of the figs. The tree has grown so tall that unless I get a good ladder and find someone willing to climb it, I'm going to miss half of them anyway. And the tree, being a tree, is going to keep offering herself to any and all passersby without regard to ownership or possession, because that's just how she is.

Same with my sour green little guava tree by the driveway; the guavas never get really ripe anyway because this isn't the right climate for them. I have never eaten one, but I've often run across a Mexican family harvesting some when I come out to my car. I'm sure they know something about preparing them that I don't--add sugar, maybe?

I had a friend who loved flowers. When she was poor and worked a crappy job in the city, she used to walk home hiding a small scissors in her pocket. When she passed by a yard with beautiful roses, she'd snip off one or two to take it home. She needed flowers like she needed food; she needed beauty, so she stole it. Later, she became a single mother, and then opened up her own flower shop. At which point her attitude towards flower-stealers may have changed--I don't know.

Gleaning, that's what the Bible calls it. The wealthy landowners were supposed to set aside a corner of their fields for poor people to glean. I have been a scavenger myself, and a friend of scavengers. I've lived off my wits and exulted in the ingenuity of finding "free" resources in a land of excess.

Now I "own" the tree. Now I am planning to go to Malawi, a small poor country in a continent bursting with natural resources, where people live on less than a dollar a day and babies die from malnutrition.

How does this happen?

I know; theft, rape, pillage, slavery, corruption, theft, greed, theft.

I know, and yet I don't understand. How can babies die of malnutrition in a tropical country where fruit drops off the trees, where forests and jungles teem with life?

Last Friday, I danced with other Wing It! members at a benefit for Malawi. After our performance there followed a short presentation by Masankho's aunt, who works to improve conditions for the poorest villagers, especially women, who have to soak cassavas in leech-infested, human-waste-infected stagnant ponds where they are in constant danger of being raped. The average life expectancy in Malawi is 36 years due to AIDS. I've already had twelve more years of life than the average African, simply by the luck of being born in a first world country.

I know, and yet I don't understand. I can hear my neighbor next door, watering his gardeen. His young corn is calf-high already. Every year he does this, plants corn on a tiny strip of land, a city yard. I get to wash dishes and look out at an urban cornfield. Talk about a contradiction in terms.

He also grows hige dinosaur cactus, big broad flat green leaves with tiny flowers. I think you peel the succulent arms, and slice them and fry them. He also has a little arbor on which hang chayote, a green-skinned fruit with a white inside, like a potato. I bought some at the supermarket one time, to try it. It's a very delicate flavor, boiled with butter and salt.

This neighbor is so enterprising that when he noticed my yard going to rack and ruin, he just stepped in and weeded it and watered and pruned it. Of course I ended up paying him. He didn't come hat in hand, asking for a job--he just saw the work that was there to be done, the abundance of earth not being properly cared for, and went and harvested. And harvested.

I can hear the garbage and recycling trucks making their rounds as I type. Last night I talked to my poetry class about fruitful moments, the moments when worlds collide, which provide an occasion for poetry. Male and female energies. Sparks. Fecundity; abundance. These moments are always happening, I said. The world is an abundant place, abundant in meaning, magic, music, poems, and fruit.

Why do we (I) fear scarcity so much? Why this impulse to hoard what cannot be controlled?

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