Excerpt from Chlora's Book of the Month Club: August
Draft 1, Feb. 2015, copyright Ginger Henry Geyer
In the dog days of summer,
Chlora got to spend some
one-on-one time with her two grandmothers,
who lived in different places.
It was like the tale of two cities,
except they were small towns.
First up, she got to go to her local grandmother's.
Grandmother lived in a rose garden
outside of town. Her faraway grandmother,
Nana, lived behind a big maple tree
three hours away, all alone because PaPa had died
before Chlora really got to know him.
Nana was what they call a widow-woman
but she was used to it.
Chlora's local Granddaddy passed away
instead of dying, which was worse.
But either way, she didn't get to see
her grandfathers anymore.
Granddaddy had been out of view
for only a year now
so it was easy to picture him in familiar places.
He loved his vegetable garden
and Grandmother tried to keep it going,
but for Grandmother it was too much to handle.
Her roses gave her more comfort than veggies
and she gave away bouquets
to other widow-women all the time.
Chlora knew she had to save her feelings
for a special occasion, like a holiday,
but in August there were no holidays
except these times with her grandmothers.
Chlora was well prepared
for the chores this visit would entail.
Grandmother would work her hard,
but she'd also pay her some allowance
so she could buy ice cream and whatever she
could find at the junk store.
Chlora tucked her ponytail up under
her green gimme cap, which made her ears stick out.
The tag poked out over the back of her neck.
Gimme this and gimme that,
I want every gimme cap!
Grandmother said that had something to do
with acquiring too many of these baseball caps;
she had given away a dozen of them after
Granddaddy passed away.
Grandmother told Chlora to get her gardening gloves,
since she'd have her hands in everything.
And find a small shovel, and the wheelbarrow,
first pick some corn to feed the chickens,
then gather their eggs, here, use my colander,
but steer clear of the Little Red Hen
'cause she'll peck you. You have to earn her eggs.
And while you're down there,
bring me a few shovels-full
of black gold for my rose bed, so here take out
this stink pot with kitchen scraps
and work it into the compost real good.
Grandmother's instructions were a bit of a blur,
but they were all about multi-tasking, as every gardener knows.
When you're done, rinse out the wheelbarrow
and dump it all out or it'll breed mosquitoes.
Stay the course with that wheelbarrow
and don't get in the mud behind the chicken house.
Mud? There was a long drought on, no rain for weeks,
how'd we get mud?
My Lord, what a mornin', when the sky begins to fall!
Georgia O'Keeffe herself couldn't have painted
a prettier sky, with puffed up clouds
like angel butts all lined up for take-off
into the new day.
Chlora hummed like her grandmother as she
wheeled down the garden path through
the rose-covered arch in the fence.
This arbor was more an exit than an entrance,
its thicket of red blooms marking the
point where flowers ended and vegetables began.
Now this garden plot was a lot of work
and really should be avoided.
But cute little ladybugs were vividly perched
on the cornstalks, and she plucked off a few
and let them crawl in her hand.
She pretended to be the Jolly Green Giant
towering over the ladybugs,
and sang the fly-away-home song to them.
They took flight and then she told them
how the cow ate the cabbage.
Like in that Okie musical, the corn was as high as an elephant's eye and she picked all the ears she could reach. Why were they called ears anyhow?
The corn was getting tired of the drought
but the chickens would like those kernels
whether juicy or hard.
There was more than enough corn, but it was hard to know when enough was enough.
Chlora careened the wheelbarrow
toward the Lazarus corner of the yard,
where the compost lives and held her nose
like a disciple does. P. U.!
Next time she'd bring Lysol
and her rubber nose clip from the swimming pool.
Gnats announced the approach to
that rich smoldering heap where ideas grow.
Strain a gnat but swallow a camel,
as the Good Book says.
Straining had something to do colanders
like the big one Grandmother had given her to
collect and rinse off the fresh eggs.
It had stars of David pierced through it
that made nice patterns on the kitchen counter
when the light hit it just right.
That old colander was beat up from years of use
but it had its priorities straight.
The compost pile was called Dumptop.
It had a fertile imagination
even though it was uglier than a mud fence.
There was a huge, miraculous vine growing
out of the muck. It could be Jack's beanstalk,
a sure way to heaven. But the vine grew thick and low,
sprawling in and out of banana peels, squished tomatoes, grapes
long-gone flowers, mushroom clouds, and egg shells.
There was no upward movement at all,
for the vine was heavy-laden
Bingo! This is how she could make some real money!
Take these melons to the farmers market
along with the eggs she would gather,
and some big beefsteak tomatoes
there at the edge of the garden.
Some of the melons were a bit small and green, but
they would have to do, since no golden eggs
had fallen from the great goose up above.
But if the hens down here had done their job,
she'd have a sure cash-crop
to supplement her meager allowance.
That was quite advisable,
as red ink was hemorrhaging
out of her piggy bank.
Chlora thumped a melon and sniffed it like the
know-it-all lady in the grocery store.
That apparently made it ripe,
so she picked every melon, small and large,
most of them a bit green,
and filled her wheelbarrow in an instant.
There wasn't any room for compost.
The chickens clucked and, after striding toward Chlora,
aimed at her ankles. They had a pecking order, just like
those disciples at the Last Supper,
who jostled about sitting next to Jesus.
These hens had been home-schooled
and were not of the fancy free-range variety.
Cocky Locky, the loud mouthed rooster
was king of the compost pile.
He was a big speckled beauty, but he was mean
and beyond educating.
Then there were the egg layers
who proudly had no need of a rooster
and just gave Cocky Locky a flip of their tails.
Next up were the awkward adolescents,
overgrown Easter chicks that retained bits
of feathers dyed pink and blue.
They were cute as marshmallow peeps
when they were just babies in the Easter basket.
Those chicks weren't supposed to grow up,
for heaven's sakes, and now half of them
turned out to be teenaged roosters with tinted wingtips
and they made the hens very nervous.
Chlora told those ring-tailed tooters
to fly right or she'd report them
to their heavenly father, Colonel Sanders.
He would rubberize them and serve 'em up
at some political fundraiser banquet.
Or she'd go find Chicken Little
and move him into their coop.
He'd talk their legs off about catastrophes
and tell them the sky was falling.
Such a fear would make them so patriotic
they'd never even notice what their leaders were up to.
Chicken Little was such a worry-wart,
getting all bent out of shape over an acorn
falling on his head.
He ran around like a chicken with its head cut off,
which made the rest of them anxious.
Don't believe everything you hear
or all that fear-mongering
that the end is near
will bring down an apocalypse upon
the chicken house like never seen before.
The Little Red Hen exacerbated the angst
with her selfish insistence that only the hardy
workers could eat, and she squawked at
the young white hens,
who laid nothing but lumpy marbles.
When stupid meets selfish,
chickens will come home to roost.
Chlora stuck her short shovel into the compost pile.
The shovel's wooden handle
looked like it was sprouting buds.
Maybe it was like the rod of Aaron,
made out of an almond branch.
It looked dead but it flowered when he left it
in the Lord's tabernacle.
Chlora's shovel didn't bloom,
but it sure did bring forth earthworms
out of the compost pile.
They wiggled in protest at being exposed,
and no wonder:
chickens are omnivores and they have a dilemma
when both corn and worms are around.
Cocky Locky was the first to spy the worms
and he flew right over.
Chlora peeled back the corn shucks.
The hens smiled silly when they got corn.
To them it was like crack,
like the candy corn Chlora craved at Halloween.
She threw the cobs on the ground and
watched the feathers fly.
The chickens were happily distracted by
by their own entitlement to easily accessible food.
Even old Cocky Locky was in denial,
strutting his stuff and grabbing more than his share,
like he'd earned it or something.
After awhile the chickens were no more appreciative
than the Israelites in the wilderness
gathering that grace food, manna.
When they got scared about scarcity
they tried to hoard the manna, and it rotted.
Chlora knew that while the chicken dance
was going on, she'd have no problem stealing eggs.
She did not want to test the warning about
do not bite the hand that feeds you.
She dashed into the hen house
and stirred up the straw nests.
The girls in the hothouse had been busy.
Together they could produce almost
two dozen eggs a week,
even though some of them weren't
spring chickens anymore.
Counting chickens before they hatch
was a chicken and egg problem,
like Jesus saying the first will be last,
or you have to lose your life to gain it.
Some of the eggs were hot from the hen,
sticky, with feathers clinging to them.
How do those eggs get fertile, anyhow?
Would a double-yoked egg make twins?
She cracked a nest egg, which did not bode well
for her future.
The Little Red Hen would be
madder than a wet hen if she saw this.
Chlora grabbed all the eggs she could find
and ran an overflowing colander-full
out to the melon-happy wheelbarrow.
Back outside, pieces of the sky began to fall.
Was it manna from heaven?
Was it the miracle of rain?
No, it was just droplets from the big sprinkler in the yard,
the far reaches of its lazy arc
tapping on the tin roof of the chicken coop.
Water slid down to the ground and
that's where the mud had collected itself.
Chlora veered off course and of course
the overloaded wheelbarrow got stuck in the mud,
the front wheel lodged in place by fallen fruits.
She pushed the wheelbarrow hard and one melon rolled off
and busted open, spilling its seed upon the ground.
Was it an abomination? Should it be stoned?
Somewhere in Genesis
or in the lamentable Lamentations,
it recommended this.
Just in case, she threw a couple of eggs
at the messy melon, but missed.
Now she was really walking on eggshells,
uncertain about what God really wanted.
One thing for sure: those juicy seeds had
squirted out, eager to make new melons.
If fruits could reproduce out of a garbage pile,
why did Christians insist that
God had such a fertility problem,
with his one and only son?
Chlora slipped, an egg plopped on her shoe.
Greed was simply impractical.
It had that orangey-green smell of rotting produce.
Chlora vowed that when she grew taller,
she'd drive a dump truck with thick tires and mud flaps,
hook up its exhaust pipe to air freshener,
and spray Rose of Sharon all over town.
She finally got unstuck,
like successful writers do,
and slowly pushed the listing wheelbarrow
back up to the yard, bumping over corn cobs
and losing more of her load.
She would have to reset
the front wheel of the wheelbarrow,
which was whopper-jawed from corniness
and a poor plot
that had thickened into sludge.
Chlora didn't want to get her hands dirty
but the muddied reality
required that she be left to her own devices.
She peeled off her garden gloves
and hung them on the handles.
She tried to tighten the screws
on the front wheel.
The squeaky wheel twisted and bent.
Not even grease would help it.
The whole wheelbarrow
would have to be reinvented.
This would be poetic justice
for William Carlos Williams, who said
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Williams showed that poems are objects,
and some objects just need to be kicked.