Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
In The Annals Of A Couple Of Former Old Ladies
by Ken Rodgers
Last night I dreamed about John McPhee's Annals of the Former World in which, among other places, he celebrates the hard-rock world of Crown King, Arizona.
I know that spot, teetering on the edge of a mountain—a little island of Ponderosa pine and scrub oak erupted, as if displaced from the Rockies, in a dry desert where cactus and coiled rattlesnakes are kings.
Crown King is a black granite, blue granite, red granite, pick-swinging-hard-rock-miner's place where gold and silver entice men to toil and die for Mammon.
Arizona dragged my great-grandfather, who arrived at Phoenix in a train of wagons in the early 1880s, not to mine, but to farm. My grandmother used to drone about childhood trips between the Salt River Valley and Flagstaff. Dust-dry river beds, boulder-strewn ridges, dust-dry river beds now flood-swollen, then boulder-strewn ridges, men bitten by diamondbacks, men who almost died but didn't and stood guard all night waiting for Apaches who sat bareback on runty ponies to come steal horses. Apaches who never stole horses.
Like most expatriate "Zonies," I rejoice escaping one-hundred-plus degrees—spring, fall and summer. The place reminds me of Marianne Moore's poem, "He Digesteth Hard Yron," about creatures with feet as "hard/as a hoof."
My grandmother drudged for over ninety years, uneducated and full of cockamamie stories, such as pulling a hair from a horse's mane and tossing it in rain water, forming a worm. We fought that battle more than once. Me screaming, "It's a gordius worm and not from a horse's mane." Her smirking in that hard, knowing way, with her picket-fence lips and crinkly eyelids.
She and Marianne Moore were of a similar age and I smile thinking of them having a chat. Moore with her high modernist poetics and Bryn Mawr education, years of teaching at the Carlisle Indian School. Her T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound knowledge, marveling at the unlettered opinions of my hard-luck pioneer grandmother who confidently tapped on the table top with a hard, boney finger, fingernail thick and yellowed.
And if McPhee joined in, he wouldn't care what one (or the other) knew about continental drift and granite formation, the black and red and blue of it all. I imagine he'd make notations about how Moore bit a knowing grin when the argument arrived at that hard spot where two minds can't get past the rock clogging the proverbial road. He'd listen to the soft "r"s and the hard "a"s, and note the crows' feet, the pursed lips, the way one would laugh at the hard ignorance of the other, the way they'd look far away every once in a while.
Ken Rodgers lives and teaches in blustery Boise, Idaho. He's been turning the garden under, admiring the girth of the earthworms. See more about Ken's writing at Ken's Website.
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