Jonathan Alston is a young graduate from CSU: Sacramento’s Creative Writing Master’s program. He believes that words change the course of existence, nothing else really matters. Writing is working, and work is writing.
Well that’s me
Just a’drinkin’ off this bottle and a’driftin’ out to sea
Well that’s me
Just a’sittin’ here starin’ and a’shakin’ like a leaf
Well that’s me
Just a’leanin’ off my shovel in this graveyard o’ dreams
Yea that’s me
Just a’leanin’ off my shovel in this graveyard o’ dreams.
-The Devil Makes Three
I watched his spade sink deep in soil, saturated with imagination and memory.
I watched him dig.
Each stroke fell precise, no hint of onerous disdain for the task, he shoveling a love for the earth that I could not understand. A sight I recalled seeing; this man, humping mounds of dirt from the ground, only he was white then. But now, watching him, his skin sagged in black folds on his face, body too I suppose under those tattered gray coveralls.
Trees surrounded us – Douglas fir, Redwood, Spruce, Willow, Oak – an acre of fresh untouched soil in between, virgin planting ground for something beautiful, unimagined.
Time roamed in the barren field, or was born out of the very particles that made the material he dug; and with each upturning of his shovel, new time was released from its compressed womb, engaging with the air and me, transporting me forward through it, to where it, perhaps at some point, would end.
Unaware what he was doing to time; how he disrupted the flow, past and present and future; how through his unconscious continuation of such a monotonous chore, the fabric of my life altered. Perhaps nothing at all happened, the entire encounter a fabrication of my wandering thoughts.
But time moved there; moved from the dirt, fell from the metal of his shovel, wafted up through that open space.
I approached, curious of his digging, what was that hole once completed? No eyes, only empty sockets filled with a pulsing light more brilliant than a supernova; I could not look at him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh, just digging me a hole.” He did not look up to acknowledge my presence; kept to his shovel and the dirt.
“What’s it for?”
“A grave.” Time quivered at his voice, something I did not feel with my skin, but from within. I wanted to ask – for whom? – but could find no words to say. Small mounds pocked the would-be-smooth surface between the trees. Hundreds of graves, perhaps thousands, made up that ground I walked on, an infinite rupturing of and halt to time and to me.
“Did you dig all these graves?”
“Yessir. All day I dig.” Never once did he miss a repetitious beat.
“But who are you burying?”
“Oh, they come and go. Some stay long, some don’t. It ain’t no matter, really, when you think to it. They’re just temporary, things get to changing real quick around here.”
“How many have you buried?”
“Well that depends on what you mean? Because I done been burying here since before time was called time. These ain’t no ordinary graves, mind you. I bury dreams.”
He stopped digging, leaning against his shovel, looking straight in the eyes, the light dimming from within those hollow sockets.
“Every dream born got to die, it don’t matter what kind. All dreams are born from the same place anyway. Right here.” He started to dig again. “It’s like this: we have these dreams see, these movies of sleep we watching, and we’ve things we want. You follow? Well, they all got to die some time. We don’t sleep forever. The night’s not eternal. Not yet anyway. But dreams got to die, because we need new dreams, and you can’t have new dreams and old dreams at the same time. Old’s got to give way to new, from old soil grows new ideas.”
“But who is to say I have gone anywhere?”
“I suppose that’s true if you’re talking places. But I’m talking dreams. Ephemeral. Imagination. Heart. They don’t have beginnings or endings, just phases. Transitions. It’s like love. You don’t wish for girls you don’t have no more, you hold close to the one you got, she’s it, she takes over all them came before her, killing off any hope for past women. Dreams are it, now. Once you dream, it’s got to die, got to be put back where it came for new dreams.” I didn’t know what to say. We stood wrapped by his shovel’s scoffing.
“I’ve seen you, only you were different.”
“That’s probably true, you’re the only one who ever comes.”
“What I am doing here? I don’t even know how I got here.” He stopped digging and climbed out of the hole, laying down the shovel and pulling off gray gloves.
“Look, get on down in and it’ll all make sense in the end, I promise you that much.” I did not move in my mind, but my legs took me into that pit. I cannot understand what is going to happen, what is happening. Yet time, unearthed by this . . . this thing of empty eyes and lifeless ponderings, continues on around me, wrapping me in a cocoon of immobilization. “Trust me,” he says as I lie down. Dirt covers my face and I want to yell, but already I fade into the soil, absorbed by its porous memory. Sleep swallows me, the dirt covering everything.
The air is clear; pure and white. I taste the stasis, void of time and change. A placid revenant of creative imagination. With old hopes I breathe new life, shape a new reality of time and space; bring more than was given me.
And I pick up my shovel, and start to dig.