An Afternoon on a Porch

15 Jun

I’m not a native Athenian. I’ve come to intern, for the summer,  at The Georgia Review. They’re a fine literary publication—one of the best in the nation; and, perhaps why I like them most, they let me work for them.

They also give me Fridays off.

That’s why I’m sitting on my back porch, relaxing as the day yawns and stretches into afternoon. It’s rained, and the air is cool for the deep South in the middle of June. The rain stirred up the smell of plants and soil, and a soft breeze rustles the spiked leaves of the bamboo trees that hug the perimeter of my house. I’m drinking coffee and soaking in the air—it’s pleasant, just to wake up and breathe.The porch is simple—there are no tables, no chairs, just a square of wood planks with green, molded boards, a few plants drooping in plastic pots, and a neon hose that sprouts from a faucet in my apartment’s brick wall, coiling in erratic loops across the floorboards.

Behind the porch, there is a dense, green cluster of trees—what I thought at first was a small forest—but in reality is no such thing. It’s a sardine can: a small bit of land packed tightly with bamboo, a tall water oak overtaken by ivy, and a dense carpet of cracked, tan leaves. But it’s beautiful, too.

I wandered back there my first day, my feet clad only in flip flops (a mistake). Gold and emerald light shot through the leaves. Squirrels clambered through the branches, squawking as they passed overhead.

It’s someone’s back yard, of course. Through gaps in the slim shafts of bamboo I could see the back of a house, the red tricycle, tilted on its side, and an overturned, beige canoe, leaning against a wooden picket fence. Any thought of “forest” quickly disappeared.

But then I found something else in the trees: remnants of an old brick fireplace and the root of a chimney, whose brick trunk toppled long ago. It wasn’t much, just a ruin of something old and gone, but it was there—the past sitting quietly, hands folded in its lap, waiting for someone to remember it.

We all carry pasts within us, and it’s funny to be reminded that all those moments, the million collected fragments of our lives, are nothing compared to the greater memory of the world, or of the universe, even. Before giant mastodons lumbered across the ice, before the first pool of mud gasped and shivered into life, before a Universe expanded and condensed and splintered into everything, time hovered, a great eye, and watched. Our Universe is 13.75 billion years old, our world is 4.54 billion years old, the U.S. will be 236 years old next month, and I—well, I’m 21.

I’m 21 and sitting on my rented porch, idling away the day—and the summer— as clouds slide and shift over the sun.

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