The Names of Weeds
Parker wrote this as an experiment in epistolary form. Constructing a creative piece in the form of a letter else adds so much; the relationship between author and recipient might be unknown to the reader but stills adds a certain depth, a richness, the soil-like infrastructure which cultivate the contents.
We’d be walking through the orange grove sucking at the bursting sweet candy remnants of the season’s fruit and she’d say, “vetch, there,” pointing. Or driving down a county road, maybe heading west, and then together, as if rehearsed, we’d whisper aloud as the sun bounced off the hood of the truck into our hands half-shielding our eyes, “amaranths.” But that’s for me, where I’m living in Esparto, and just after a thistle rain when new growth is prolific. For you it could be pigweed or chickweed, or maybe lambsquarters or quackgrass, depending on where you’re at now.
Every time mom visits we walk together somewhere. The arboretum in the nearby town or across a farm owned by a friend. Where we’re walking doesn’t really matter. But as I’m sure you can recall, or at least I imagine you can, with her every plant has a name and a rating on how hard it is to kill it or keep it alive. Don’t you remember the morning glory, the bindweed that grows splayed out across the cracked pastures of our childhood home in July? It doesn’t matter if you pull it, or burn it, or spray it, or move your whole garden away from it. According to her, it will find a crack. It’s funny, looking back now, my small body laying on the hot ground, stomach resting on those same weeds, my hands parting other larger growth, and peering through that giant ecosystem, I can still smell the dirt.
I never thought so much about weeds before this letter to you. The towering blackberries along the old fence line, the natural borders to our property, both keeping us in and keeping us out. Or the ones in the forest like velcro that dad said must have been the prototype for the great invention. And all the ones that get that foamy spit on them, high up on the stem in the spring? You must remember that like I do.
Or you remember Mom, tangling with the weeds in the back yard in the dry creek bed she constructed. None of us knew enough to tell her that the real creek beds, dry or wet, are carpeted with and made authentic by the weeds.
It’s possible that you don’t remember them. But that’s not to say they weren’t there for you to do with as you pleased, to nurture or to eradicate. In fact, they are still there, crawling and spreading and bolting. And to think back upon them is to become that same field we cleared every year in May after the rain, that fertile space we save, crowded out and overrun despite our best intentions.
Just this morning on my walk I saw vinegarweed and yellow starthistle, Guinea grass and turkey mullein, and also buttercup, which if mom had been here kneeling and squinting, would have been identified as ranunculus, and together we would walk on.