THE FARMERS OF SHANGRI-LA
We are farmers. We are grown from a blackest dirt to be found above a clay table that's there below the ground in Ohio. Black means rich; black means vitality to us because we are farmers. We plant trees, we grow them. When years pass us by, by the old oak tree and the swing from its limb we used to climb, it will still be here to whisper secrets only children and our hollow ghosts know.
Summer passes us: the ball game, a worn leather mitt, the county fair and the dusk a part of the wind. Like the way it feels to skinny dip at night when everyone's parents are asleep as though we are adults ourselves. The owl keeping one eye open and watching the summer pass us farmers and every creeping, crawling thing the night over knows it, knowing nakedness.
We've a barn to prove our stores, our progress and toil. We've a place behind it to smoke cigarettes or cigars or pipes after the family dinner. We've gravel driveways and blueberry homegrown stout or wine and rhubarb pie to eat while joking about the billy goat or how the dogs in the yard are just so stupid, just so dumb.
"We were out by the dock out on the boat and it tipped, is all. That's why I'm so wet,' said as one enters the house, too late to notice the sun setting behind dripping ears. And the person in the living room or dining room nods in approval, knowing the question need not be answered and that it was only half asked to begin with, and offers the last slice of pie.
"What happened to the rest of the world?"
They are failing at something and running from us. It is well assorted (affixed) in them to repeatedly escape this way, to take the fastest car, the fastest plane to do this, never to be seen the same way again and always lost in one or two or more ways. They leave behind the black, vital dirt of here and Shangri-La behind shaking heads; not shaking water, but disbelief at what is left behind in the past in the country in Ohio. They are on toward the city and clean futures like good barbershop haircuts. They return a day to some lagoon where a father or uncle or grandfather spits into the wind at mosquitoes and mumbles at the lack of predators in the area, natural predators to hunt and kill. This is God's country.
There is incoming wind through an open window of a pickup truck, the bed filled with wood to last the winter, and bugs scramble at the weight of the statement. But no one hears this. Not the bugs, not above the crack and shoot of gravel beneath rugged tires, not below the whistle of wind shaped for the ear and aimed from across a field of corn or alfalfa. No God hears this, let alone the passenger.
Jackson Browne plays on the stereo, Running On Empty, and the car is in gear. And we will wait for you here, we will wait many years.
Christopher Bowen is the Cleveland-based author of We Were Giants, a chapbook from Sunnyoutside Press. While his fiction has been in a dozen or so places, he blogs from Burning River about his travels and writing. He is also the recent editor of The Ohio Vintage Matchbook Company.