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March 14, 2013 | Fiction

Of Muzzy Smoke and Lapping Flame

Edmund Sandoval

Of Muzzy Smoke and Lapping Flame photo

Whatever crop and bung was leftover he burned in a large heap of muzzy smoke and lapping flame and when it was chopped down to ash and live glowing charcoal ember, he drug the spreader over the field, everything still burning and here and there little volcano puffs of flame and the iron wheels sizzling themselves, the rust pockets orange with heat along the curve and spokes, and when it was done the field was fed and the smoke puddled in the small valley of the high desert that he called home and it was a fine thing, the harvest behind him, and it was the same at the end of each season and for his whole life of farming he did this burning, standing all the while minding the fire and breathing in the peat tasting smoke, heady with the slight burn for the smoke was clean, as he farmed clean without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, nothing but sun and water and chicken scat, strips of aluminum hung from roughhewn fence posts to discourage the birds, and for insects he dusted the plants, the ground, with diatomaceous earth, silt soft in hand and appealing to the tongues of aphids and caterpillars, all destroyers of crop, that hardened as sculpture clay in a kiln does within their guts, a slow way to die but it left the crop unmaligned and was able to grow hale and nutritive, and it was a surprise to us all and alarming to us all when he explained that his insides from lung to esophagus to even his tongue and top of his mouth, the soft palate it’s called, were scarred with a whole galaxy of tumors, and all he said was just the coin of the realm, cosmic fluke, hereditary injustice, and he took in yet one more harvest and we came to with our rakes and cans of beer and there he was enjoying the unfurling of autumn and the bare stalks curling in the flame and sowing his body all the living while with cancer but he took it in stride and not once did I hear of him falling to pieces and each weekend he took a steak and gravy and a tumbler of rum and cola with shaved ice until the meds made all food a common enemy and steadily did he take the antiemetic pills and lost weight and suffered until the wife of the boy in the small lot on the ridge came down in her Datsun, let herself in and produced a cord of marijuana and she showed him how to smoke it, and in time he stopped with the meds and nobody said boo because he was going to die, meds or no, and he invited shamans down and healers, and soon his house was festooned with large crystals, geodes split in half, amethyst and quartz and even this large hunk of salt that his dog could not stay away from, and sticks of incense and a chanting tune that hummed from his old receiver, and he drank fresh juices derived of ginger and kale and at the same time ate chocolate and smoked the weed and had a beer now and again and sometimes had whole scads of people over, people of the valley and their friends, the cars and trucks spilling out into the dirt road and the voices loud, happy, steadily drunker, higher, and he made his way from the scrum of noise in the moments before dawn, his head thick with exhaustion and sickness, and he made his slow way to the fields that had cost him everything and stood there in the flattened dirt, pulled his coat around his husk of self and watched his breath spool into the cool air, he looked round and before him sprouted four decades worth of crop but then he blinked and it was only the field rimed with frost with its harrows eroded by a year’s rain and wind, then the sun came into its bearing, yellow and the sky still spangled with stars that slowly faded and there the moon and that not his last morning but close and he thought of fire on the ground and shivered for the cold that lingered on the air and turned back.

image: Aaron Burch


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