There’s always a moment before the moment when nothing
is ever the same again. The moment before the leg
of my uncle’s overalls got caught in the baler pick-up. The
moment before the moment you decided to tell your lover
the truth. The moment before the horses panicked, the
moment before the acid splashed, the moment before
the driver got distracted by his GPS. How was a fourteen-
year-old girl supposed to know what it meant? It wasn’t her
job to answer the phone, her job was the attendance sheets.
The phone rings, she’s a dutiful child, Three minutes
says the man on the line, hangs up. “But it wasn’t,” she
tells us, “three minutes at all.” She’s come to give us a tour
of the church: the basement where the four of them (Addie
Mae tying her dress sash) had just finished morning lessons,
the staircase to the office and the nave with its pews. You’d
never know unless you knew already that the stained-glass
windows, all but one, had been replaced. “Fifteen steps,”
she says, from where she’d been to where she made it
when the bomb went off. “I can count them in my sleep.
Or slowly, the other irrevocables.
The teething infant, chips of paint. The water that flows
through the aging pipes. Is it something peculiar to us,
do you think, this science-will-fix-it, somebody-somewhere-
will-figure-out-the-cleanup way of burning through our one
shared life. At the turn of the century in which I was born
the topsoil here in Iowa was sixteen God-sent inches
deep. We’re down to half. Three tons lost
per acre per year because we like our groceries cheap.
I’ve sometimes taken comfort in the long run, in
the long run some worthier species will, fate willing,
inherit the earth. In the long run the creek bed… the
coastline… the karst… In the long run the fern and the
nautilus speak a single fractal language. My father loved
the ginkgos on the statehouse lawn, the former statehouse,
Greek Revival, columns and cupola painted to look like stone.
And no more native here than we are, or the ginkgo, but he
loved the trees. The species coexisted with the dinosaurs.
A ginkgo in Hiroshima survived the atom bomb. It must
have been unforgivable, the thing I said that made him cut
their visit short. Forgetting hasn’t fixed it.