Writing begins with Noticing

Writing begins, I think, with the art of noticing. One of my earliest memories is this:

I am standing at the end of a peach orchard in Farmington, New Mexico, in which my parents have cleared spaces to make a trailer park. Many of the trailers sit on blocks because their tires, along with the women’s wedding rings, are visiting a hock shop until payday.

The peach trees are at the end of bloom, filing the air with a stinging sweetness and the ground with pale, brown-edged petals that swirl around in the wind.  Down the row of trailers are cars and trucks, and men’s legs sticking out from underneath them, this way and that.  Above them, the automobiles’ hoods are open, making them look like birds lined up, waiting for someone to feed them.

This is a sight I see every weekend, when the men come home from working as roughnecks in the natural gas fields. Most of them drink too much, and curse as they work under the cars, all day Saturday and Sunday.

Not until I am an adult do I make a connection to all the legs sticking out from under the cars and what we children do all week long while our fathers are working. We have few toys and play cowboys and Indians (“Andale, andale, arriba!”) and roleplay shopping and gas station.

For the last game we all use the square of window screen I found in a trash can. We take dirt and sift it into old coffee cans. One of them we have bent to make a spout, and while the boys let sticks hang from their lower lips like cigarettes, the girls hand them scraps of paper and tell them, “Fill it up and check the air in the tires.”  We watch as they pour the silken rope of dirt into our parents’ gas tanks.

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