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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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do you ever do that?
june 1, 2006

God waits for us, in the garden.

Bee on bloom, quivering rise of a green stalk, orange descent of a carrot.

Forcing your fingers down into black dirt, pulling your cupped hands back up, lifting out earth, you create something from childhood.

A hole.

Filling that hole with life tall and green, symmetrical leaves wobbling as you position the plant within the depth you've dug.

Right hand, left hand parenthesizing, both palms slide excavated dirt forward from either side, an embrace, dirt falling back into the hole, twin hour glasses, down the sides of the plant, unpotted after so many months in a hard plastic container on a table in a nursery, like shoes coming off.

Once all the earth is back-filled, the plant level with the ground it will forever inhabit, you add water. From a hand-held watering can, its sliding interior weight, radiating out a hundred little holes in the spout, eventually tipping its front snout forward.

God looking over your shoulder, vast and weightless as a white cloud in a blue sky.

You hope the plant lives.

Gardeners have favorites.

When Mary and I first started our backyard garden, fifteen years ago, we ordered a lot of our plants from mail order nurseries. Back then, Internet shopping wasn't an option. We'd get colorful catalogs from Spring Hill Nursery, Oak Farms, Park Seed, all the others, spend enjoyable Friday evenings poring over the pictures.

You wouldn't think a plant shipped through the mail would fare well, it goes against reason, something so dependent on soil uprooted, transported in the cargo of a plane, but in fact virtually everything we received at our mailbox was in excellent condition. Most orders arrived in a large cardboard box. Sawing apart, with a black-handled steak knife, the two top flaps, there'd be a dozen smaller cardboard boxes inside, neatly packed against each other.

One Friday, we ordered a Japanese Red Maple (Acer Palmatum Autropurpeum).

It arrived weeks later in a narrow cardboard box of the length used for shipping clown shoes.

Mary and I opened the box that evening at our black breakfast nook table, cats' noses tilted up, sniffing.

Within the cardboard coffin, dirt smell, the maple was the strangest baby, dark trunk width of a pencil, sticking up from a modest bare root ball, top of the tiny trunk snipped at an angle.

The folded instructions said to prune the trunk back six inches, before putting the tree in the ground.

If we had done that, we'd be removing the trunk, planting only the root ball. So we made a slender cut, a curl, just below the factory prune.

We moved that poor maple all over our property. Do you ever do that with a new friend, not quite knowing where to put him or her in your life? The maple was out in our front lawn at one point, I don't know what we were thinking, far too sunny, then in the backyard under several native trees, too rooty, finally in the southeast corner at the rear of our yard, by the privacy fence, in our fern garden. There it flourished, taller and wider each year, until it raised over our heads, growing to a size that made it worth somewhere between five and ten thousand dollars (mature Japanese red maples are expensive).

Each Spring, we'd watch its branches bud again, green buds spiraling out, fanning into the distinctive five-point shape of the maple's leaves, leaves turning bright red as the early Spring sun fed them.

I can't tell you how many times Mary and I sat at the rear of our property, cold bottle of beer in hand after a hard day's work, looking around at our pathways, fountains, butterflies, bunnies, birds, squirrels, twisting our necks right to watch the red maple, thin boughs blown about in the breeze, leaves ablaze, tall spirit of the garden dancing.

Last Fall, the maple dropped all its leaves, which it shouldn't have.

We were concerned. We stood by the maple, trying to discern if it were still alive. I reached out, touched the tip of a leafless branch, size of a toothpick, bent the tip.

The branch didn't go with the bend. It snapped off, dryly.

Such a tiny, tiny sound, that dry snap.

Our Japanese maple was dead.

We waited until Spring, to see if by some chance it would bud again, but it didn't.

Surrounded by new green, it stayed gray.

I bent branches at random, like saying, Can you hear me? Can you hear me?

She was dead.

I was left with the melancholy task of cutting the maple down, to the ground.

I used a pair of pruning shears, cutting off all the slender side branches, snipping them into six-inch lengths, dropping the lengths into a succession of thirty gallon black plastic garbage bags.

Once I removed the thinner side branches, I had eight main branches spreading out, like four wood people saying, "This much!"

Branches too thick for my shears.

I grabbed the first branch, pulling it down towards me like pulling down on an extremely tall lever for a slot machine that was never again going to synchronize three cherries, the base of the branch snapping off with a loud crack.

Crack, crack, crack echoing, fading, disappearing, above the wide green field across the country road.

Because of the position of the second branch, I put one sneaker down into the dark jade ivy ground cover, other sneaker on the grass path, and snapped this branch away from me.

Bang against the left side of my skull, like a bullet, me staggering sideways in the confusion of being shot, bright light inside my mind, Mary hurrying over.

Her fingers checked for blood in my scalp. None, but a bump.

I was unsure what happened. The upper left side of my skull hurt.

Experimenting, I snapped off another branch, this time pulling the branch towards me. A short section at the base of the branch, with the sudden, bark-crinkling break, fired over our back privacy fence, with enough propulsion to sail halfway across the road behind the fence, hitting the pavement, bouncing up high.

Thank God I have a hard head.

Later, after pulling the rest of the tree apart, and not getting shot anymore, but left side of my head still aching, I got down on my hands and knees in one of our flower beds, decided to weed. I actually love to weed. You learn so much, that close to the ground, the solid brown dirt you see, standing, enlarging as you drop to your knees into mosaics of chocolate, tan, mocha, gray. Pulling up spindly sunflower sprouts from the ground underneath one of our bird feeders, I spotted the clues in a spider murder. Sixteen foot prints went in a curve behind the fanned base of an iris, but only eight footprints came out.

Once Mary and I were finished for the day, we sat in our white plastic chairs at the rear of the garden, hot, sweaty, aching, holding a cold bottle of beer.

Usually, for the first few sips, we don't talk. Just sit back, exhausted, listening to the sounds.

Sounds are wonderful. Sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night, in that comfortable blindness, I can hear one of our kittens in a litter pan.

Since we have seven cats, we have a number of litter pans. Most of the pans we use are hooded, meaning the cat has to walk through an opening to get inside, like walking into a small, hard-plastic shed. Hooded litter pans are popular because they keep the litter inside the pan. The cat's front paws, digging in the litter, flinging litter between their four legs, to cover their shit, can't fling any of the litter outside the box, onto the shining bathroom floor.

Because the cat is in an enclosed space, with a wide opening in front, any sound they make inside the hooded litter pan is magnified. So I lie in bed, wondering how long it will take me to fall asleep again, and hear a magnification of a small paw scratching into the litter, preparing a spot for its defecation. That process actually takes a lot longer than you would think it would, certainly far longer than a human would spend.

Then, for a moment, there's silence, as the cat turns around inside the box, its diggings finished.

I know from so many nights lying awake that the next sound I'm going to hear, surprisingly loud, is the thump of the first turd expelling, hitting the litter.


There it is.

I always wonder which kitten is in there.

Another silence.


(Of course, at this point it's impossible to sleep, like waiting for the fifth shoe to drop.)

So I love sounds. When it's real quiet in the garden, I still hear sounds, even when birds aren't chirping, no wind in the trees. A very comforting sound, the rotation of the earth, much like, recently, watching yet another old Law and Order episode, it dawned on me the producers have city noises in the background of every scene, not just those scenes shot outside, but the scenes in the police office, the suspects' homes. Traffic noise, horns honking, shouts, occasional dog barkings, the beeping sound delivery trucks make, backing up. It reminds me of when I was in my late teens, working in mid-town Manhattan. In some ways, it's the most soothing sound of all, at least to a thin teenager, all that city life out there, all that opportunity, waiting for you to join it.

Like everyone else in the world, we have a List of Things To Do.

Some people keep the lists in their head; we write ours down.

Most of the items on our list are rather mundane. "Replace ball cock in front downstairs toilet", "Buy under-the-counter work light for kitchen", "Cut down dead peach tree on front lawn".

Sometimes though, we get to write down a more unusual task.

"Kill the bee nest outside the second story landing."

Here's the thing. I love bees. They pollinate our flowers. We work outside in the garden, bees buzzing around us all the time, and have never gotten stung.

Bees though often build their nests within the wooden frame of a home, rather than in those urn-shaped hives hanging from a tree branch that bears in cartoons love to snap off, lie on their furry backs on the grass with, big tongue licking up all that yellow honey.

Bees build their nest by chewing between joists, often under eaves, creating a space inside the frame of your house where thousands of them live, crawling over each other.

Our nest was outside the landing that leads to our second floor. The nest was under the western eave of the roofline for our attached garage, an eave we could see from the landing's window.

We bought one of those tall cans of wasp and hornet killing sprays, after reading the curved back of the can to make sure it killed yellow jackets, which is what we had. Having been stung by every type of bee at one point or another in my childhood, I can say with a great deal of authority that yellow jackets have the worse sting. Wasp and hornet stingers are simple pins. In, and out. The yellow jacket has a flat, split stinger, barbs on each half. Once it jams that wide triangular stinger down into your skin, the little fucker vibrates the two barbed halves of its stinger. It hurts like hell. I was stung by one as a kid. I still have a pale scar in the web between two fingers.

The can advised the best time to spray the nest was early morning or late evening, when the hive tends to be less active. Locate the entrance to the nest, empty the entire can up into the dark opening.

I went outside, stood under the eave where the nest was located, yellow jackets swerving around me. Watching them, I could clearly see where they entered the wood of our eave, into their nest.

But still, I didn't kill them. I hate killing things. Years ago, we had a mouse in our house, went to elaborate steps to capture the mouse live, release it in the field behind our home.

So the tall can of bee killer sat out in the garage.

But we started getting bees inside our home, which I had to stalk and slap with a rolled-up copy of The New Yorker, and one time Thor, our biggest cat, came dashing into our bedroom, screeching, flopping on his side, chest breathing hard (I suspect he tried eating a bee, got his tongue stung).

So we had to do something.

I was prepared to wait until dusk that night, go outside, climb a ladder, point the can's nozzle up at the hole in the eave, spray until the can was light in my hand. I'd have to be quick, because I'd have to kill all the hundreds of bees before they located the source of the spray.

But then Mary pointed out to me that since the entrance to the eave was located right outside the window on the second floor landing, I could simply open that window, spray the poison through the wire screen.

Killing hundreds of bees is one of those unpleasant tasks where it's nice to have a drink waiting for you afterwards, so first I went downstairs, filled a tumbler with ice, added some vodka, poured in Coke, squeezed a lime quarter across the top ice cubes.

Took a sip on my way back upstairs, drink in one hand, can of bee killer in the other.

I slid up the landing's window.

Immediately, we could feel the humid air, such a nice feeling, hear the monotonous buzz of hundreds of yellow jackets arriving at, or departing from, the entrance to their nest.

I reached my left hand up, to make sure the window could be quickly slid down, in case something went terribly wrong.

Holding the tall can in my right hand, I rotated the nozzle until it aligned with a black dot near the top of the can, as instructed.

I aimed the nozzle through the small mesh of the screen at the nest's entrance into the eave.

Dozens of dark bees crawled on six legs around the entrance, waiting to get in, or out.

I pressed my thumb down on the top tab, immediately adjusting the nozzle's aim so the white foam that sprayed through the window screen blanketed the waiting bees, then shot up into the nest's entrance.

Bees started dropping out of the eave, dozens of them, dozens more on the shingles around the eaves keeling over, falling to the ground below.

Some of the airborne bees floated down to the garage roof to check on their flailing companions. I sprayed all of them as well.

By the time I emptied the can, hundreds of bees lay in white foam on their backs, black knees jerking.

I didn't get everyone in the nest.

About fifty bees, by my count, are still alive, swaying angrily outside the window screen, buzzing loudly.

But that's okay. The next time Mary and I go out, we'll buy another can of bee killer at Home Depot.

Maybe two.

I was walking through our bedroom the other morning and heard the TV talking about a new type of diet, which I believe was called the Flavor Diet. Before I passed out of earshot, all I could pick up was that you count calories, but the diet is mainly based on the type of flavors you eat.

I have actually come up with my own diet, which I am calling the Alphabet Diet.

The advantage to the Alphabet Diet is that its rules are extremely easy to remember.

You only eat foods beginning with the letter "a".

For example, on my diet, you are allowed to eat as many apples as you want, because the word "apple" begins with the letter "a".

You would not, however, be able to eat bananas, because "banana" does not begin with the letter "a". It begins with the letter "b".

Other examples of foods you are allowed to eat on the Alphabet Diet are:

Apple Pie
Apple Turnovers

And many other foods.

I'm trying to think of some other foods that begin with "a", but can't at the moment.

Aardvarks! I forgot about them.

I believe some people eat them, and you can on my diet. Also, apple tarts.

And many other foods.

Some examples of foods you cannot eat on my diet are:

Roast Beef
Stouffer's Macaroni and Cheese

The diet is flexible enough that you can add foods to your list of accepted foods if the food can be made to begin with an "a" (which is a big advantage over most diets).

For example, you cannot eat bacon, but you may eat "a" slice of bacon. If you wish, you may then even eat "a"nother slice of bacon.

My early calculations are that someone who participates in my Alphabet Diet is likely to lose about eighty pounds a week.

My Alphabet Diet can also help children who are overweight to not only slim down, but learn the alphabet at the same time (children who weigh less than eighty pounds should not use my diet without first consulting with a physician).

In publishing news:

My story "Visibility" is in the current issue of Revelation (Revelation 3:3).

This month, my story "The Burden of Words" will be appearing in Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine (Volume 9, Issue 2); and my story "Fleeing, on a Bicycle with Your Father, from the Living Dead" will be appearing in Midnight Street (Issue 7), as well as an interview with me by editor Trevor Denyer, and a bibliography of my work. My story "Daddy's Glad Hands" will be in the next issue of Red Scream (Issue 0.3), which I believe is also coming out in June.