The swamp is gone. I steer the car to the side of the road and park under the shade of a Dutch Elm. Crossing the road (paved,no longer gravel), I wander to where the marsh was, recall the chorus of crickets and frogs that lulled me to sleep as a child.
No soothing chirrups, no cattails. Only grass. My gaze sweeps to the split-level house.
The rev of a lawn mower. A strange woman rides it, cuts swaths in the grass. I notice that the chokecherry tree is gone along with the tire swing.
I watch the woman make pivots with the machine.
And the weeping willow? Vanished also.
Isn’t it poetry the way that tree weeps? I flinch — realize that I sound like my Mother.
The woman angles the mower toward the fence at the rear of the property. It’s then I notice the cornstalks in the distance. Yes! The maize waves in the summer breeze, reassures. The warm, sweet scent of silky corn hair as I played hide and seek with other children.
The woman circles the mower towards an unfamiliar tool shed. She shuts it off and dismounts like a seasoned cowgirl. Her hand dips into her shirt pocket and she pulls out a pack of cigarettes. Tapping one out, she lights it and surveys the work she’s done. Then her platinum blond head turns in my direction.
“Hello,” I call out, moving towards her.
She flicks ash off her cigarette and the corners of her mouth rise in a smile. I remove my sunglasses. Her hazel eyes are warm, friendly; somehow the crow’s feet add to their sparkle. An aroma like freshly baked bread escapes the chambray shirt she wears.
I hold out my hand to clasp hers in greeting. “I hope you don’t mind my snooping. I lived here when I was a girl.”
The woman’s name is Barbara and when I tell her my parents last name, she recalls my mother. In a gravelly voice, she tells of Mother stopping by once to ask for some plantings from the back yard. How could she refuse such a sweet little widow wanting flowers for her husband’s grave?
Barbara offers to show me the house. She leads me to an enclosed porch with wicker furniture.
“The patio used to be here. There were no screens.”
“Mosquitoes,” Barbara answers, “a nuisance out here.”
I don’t recall this being a problem. What I remember is fireflies glowing and dancing in the distance.
Barbara leads me to the living room. The picture window is enlarged and there’s a wrap-around view of the grass that replaced the swamp. I am not disturbed by the changed house but the disappearance of the marsh with its humming, primordial life makes me sad. It teemed with crickets and frogs and we children dipped into it to catch tadpoles.
As I stand in my old living room with this stranger, I feel how time distorts place. It is like returning home after travelling long and far away. How rooms seem as small as those of a doll’s house, how they cramp the humans inside.
The humans who look outward for primordial life.