The field is gone now.
When we were children we played there, in the field across from our grandparents’ house, a field the size of an entire block.
In the summer the grass stood tall as a person, and when the wind blew hard it made a sound like water or like someone wanting you to be quiet. I once knew the kinds of grasses and could name them by their seedheads, by the shapes they held up to the sky. One looks like a turkey’s foot.
We learned them in school because everything here was once a prairie, our teachers said, pointing out of the classroom window at the row of bungalows that were visible beyond the blacktopped playground. Where you’re sitting now was once a prairie, they would say. We rarely spoke of the people who were driven from the prairies or killed inside them.
We were told to be careful and we were. But we also ran wild in those long afternoons, chasing one another until we could hardly breathe. The field became other places, other worlds—a desert, a moonscape, a forest mysterious and feral. We made up games as the adults talked and played pinochle around the kitchen table.
In the field there was a single tree, and we would find things thrown around its trunk: tires, old toys, rusted-out bicycles—once a window from a house, its frame lined with glass like the teeth of a trap. Who removes a window from a house and throws it into a field where children play?
In full summer, white flowers called Queen Anne’s lace bloomed all over the field. Each bloom like a collection of doilies, little clusters of elliptical galaxies. The sun shone through them—flowers as big as my hand, delicate white skein with a single red dot. I would pick them into bouquets as big as I could carry and bring them to my grandmother. She always smiled widely. Beautiful, she would exclaim, her eyes shining. She would take down a vase and fill it with the flowers.
The red at the center is said to be a drop of the young monarch’s blood, spilled after a pin prick as she sewed the lace. The maker’s mark. Queen Anne’s lace, also known as wild carrot, is a weed. My mother would stifle a laugh every time I carried a fresh handful into my grandmother’s kitchen. Children are good at learning, but even so, they must be told, again and again, that the beauty they find is worthless.
“In a field I am the absence of field,” Mark Strand writes in ‘Keeping Things Whole’—a poem that astonished me the first time I read it. The words felt like a spell of invisibility.
But is that what I am in a field?
In a room, am I the absence of room? No, one stands inside a room and inside a field.
The wind blows our hair wild. The wind flattens the grass and makes us visible above the nodding stalks. No one who comes here will know our names, or who we were when we stood under a sky half blue and half black, the wind like a hammer in our ears. It is not the ocean you hear in a shell but your own blood. The noise in our ears is the wind thrashing against the field like the blood against the inside of our chests. The wind is bringing the storm closer. The wind blows the grass flat in the vanished field where we were once alive. The wind is a message that the storm is almost here. It is almost here.
I am not a mystical person. I do not believe in heaven.
At the far end of the field, opposite my grandparents’ house, a tall chain-link fence marked the edge of the quarry. Trucks bearing stone would come rumbling out, and empty trucks would come rumbling in. Limestone.
The first time I ever saw a Lamborghini it was being driven by the white man who owned the quarry, whose trucks hauled the ground away one load at a time. If this were a piece of fiction I’d never get away with calling him Lyman Martin, but that was the name painted on the side of the trucks. Stone after stone after stone cut from the earth until the emptiness was too much.
Now sometimes people will park a car at the old quarry, unload their garbage and push it over the edge.
The week after my grandmother died, I was sitting in my apartment, studying for my college courses.
The teaching assistant for my English class, a kind, soft-spoken Korean American woman named Lena Choe, would later say she was concerned that my grandmother’s death was affecting my studies. I would brush her off. That year two Korean graduate students would die by suicide, but the story stayed quiet.
I don’t remember much about my grandmother’s funeral except that the choir sang ‘Amazing Grace’—which was her favorite song—without her, and that my mother sat in the front row, her face silent, never shedding a tear. Years later we would talk about that day, that it frightened me how calm she was, and she would say that she had been in a kind of shock. After all the details, the explanations to her father who was spiraling into dementia, and the preparations for the funeral, the day went by in a blur.
It was late, and I was sitting in my living room at the back of the apartment, reading a book. Then the door flew open.
I looked through the threshold into the backyard, which was dark except for the yellow trapezoid of light cast from the living room where I sat. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me, so vast it almost felt like heat.
I couldn’t move. My mouth hung open, but I couldn’t speak. Who would I speak to? The sky was black, and the wind moved through the trees with a sound like water.
Then the feeling was gone, and it never returned.
People say flowers to mean praise and gratitude. Give them their flowers while they’re still here, people say.
The field is gone now.
Or rather, the block has been built over with townhouses, each with a matching concrete driveway. Memory is the absence of this field. That is different from a field never existing.
The spare bedroom in our grandparents’ house, where we slept when our parents traveled, was prairie once. The windows in that room looked out across the field. At the far end of the field the stone-laden trucks rumbled past, dust blooming from their giant tires.
The house is gone now.
Grandmother I brought you flowers they’re worth nothing I love you.
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