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The Mad Agriculture Journal

Published on

November 12, 2021

Written by

Chelsea Gay

Photos by

Alexander Beal

For how long do we hold onto these words?

This sentence had been tap, tap, tapping 

at the back of my brain since August.

I am at the base of Mount Adams;

where the pacific northwest bumps into eastern Washington,

the rainforest of the cascade mountains 

falls away into flatland wheat, and desert desolation.

This is pine country.

I am shoveling horse manure out of my neighbor’s barn

and suddenly the streets of Varanasi rise up around me,

I am overwhelmed by India.

Taken by its power;

  where cows reign holy masters of the roadways,

 and dung serves as both fuel and frame.

 Beauty, life, death, color, fear, 

  poverty and joy all bleed from these streets.

  The heartbeat of this culture.

  I am blessed by this fertility,

  and by the ability of our sensory organs 

  to conjure up these images.

I believe permanence is measured by perspiration.

I am not ready to call a place home until I smell like it.

Until my sweat stinks of its soul.

  Footfalls quickly on this red clay path

  heart beat rises, breath quickens

  weaving through Kenya’s pineapple plantation.

  Eyes sting of fertilizer fog,

  I’m waking with the women of the heartland.

  I may not be carrying the same burden,

  but I’m here, and I’ve found that African stench.

  As the heat of the day engulfs us 

  my body responds with a thick layer of it.

  The women ask to see my hands, 

  my character is being judged by the cracks on my fingers, 

  the dirt beneath my nails,

  how hard I’ve work, 

  and if I know the labour of the land.

  That’s what this place is about, 

  when you’ve found it

  you cry a deep, rich river.

  Swish, swatch of sweeping draws us into a new day.

  Sugar, sweet milk tea and fried dough share the sunrise.

  Reggae rock carries us to the garden.

  Gratitude abounds,

  as the power of my legs pump water onto our fields.

  Minutes move slowly in the afternoon,

  sometimes fresh mangoes push away the gnarls of hunger,

  but more often I’m left meditating 

  on the motivation for existence;

  “What keeps us marching on for tomorrow?”

  An evening sky painted as brightly as the woman’s kitangis, 

  and the ritual of burning trash rounds the day.

  Africa smells stronger than any other place I’ve ever been

  I stink of hunger, toil, smoke, 

  fried cabbage, drought, 

  deep red clay, and too many cups of tea.

  I found a home here.

  But not my home,

  history is stained by skin color and corruption.

      Later I crash into the hills of West Virginia.

    It doesn’t take long in the holler.

      Here you hang on or get run off,

      Barn pull-ups awaken circulation 

and help draw warmth into the body.

A “sooo-ey” calls the pigs from the woods.

We chase wild boars through deep brush, 

 live off the seat of our pants, 

play amongst the dumpster cats,

clear an old meth lab and a decade of TV dinners 

out of the coon shed, 

grit our teeth through the orders of cigar smoke, 

and celebrate each small success 

and failure with a couple of cold ones.

All for the creation of an acorn finished, 

long cure prosciutto. 

We eat off a shoulder that’s been hanging

from the rafters for the past two years.

I smell of a diet built on cheap beer and biscuits.

But, Nadine gone and dug herself six feet under -

Now I’m running like hell for higher ground. 

And then I find myself here.

Trying to grow roots in pine country.

Still searching for its smell.

Wondering if I can call this place home?

Originally published in
Mad Agriculture Journal Issue 6


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