Wild cannabis country
I take a few pictures to show my friends the ten-foot-tall ditch weeds, feral Cannabis sativa, cânepă sălbatică.
We walk through vineyards we once planted, now choked by morning glories; through sunflower fields with their dry, sweet scent, and through curtains of tall grasses, thorns, brambles, thistles. I didn’t know the village has become a wild cannabis country inhabited by ghosts. When did the weeds grow so tall, wall after wall of plants on the roadside?
Soon, they’ll take over—they already are. The weeds will bury the road, the few remaining homes. The dirt wings will close over the last houses standing.
The sphinx moths flutter in the windows, trapped, and the wild cannabis country smokes and whistles in the wind.
Like any abandoned place, the church smells of piss from the road. The door is missing, and all the windows, too. We startle a flock of pigeons into flight, and, in the commotion, a few bricks fall.
The girls step over the debris, bending under the crumbling arches. We could do a fashion shoot here, I tell them. The contrast between young skin and torn walls, long hair, smoky eyes, pouty mouths, ripped jeans, it would all look great. All the glossy magazines do that. The models and the photographers go to abandoned places and shoot the collections of fancy clothes in piss-smelling ruins.
The saints watch us from the skinned walls, stiff arms raised in a deaf-mute blessing. Jesus is long gone from the tower. A small cross marks the missing altar like a grave. Several other crooked crosses guard the yard. How come the whole village abandoned this place? Was it cursed? Did the ghosts move in before, or after the people left, swirling in smoke?
I look up at the sky circled by pigeons: Is anyone there looking down through a huge camera lens, at us, moving around, dazed by heat? Is someone taking photos of the girls circling the ruined church? Let’s get out of here before we get a hundred years old, I tell them.
The gray ribbon of the road ties together like charms the sunflowers, the weeds, a paper-thin frog flattened by a horse-drawn cart, a yellow caterpillar, the girls’ bare feet, and an old woman carrying empty tin buckets. The road runs by the cemetery, through the village, and out, out into the vast plain. It’s the only way out of here, the only way into the world. It’s a good thing we’re visiting only once a year, so we don’t romanticize the past too much. This road is the only way from the past to the present, from the dead to the living. I feel relieved when I walk it back.
Meanwhile, the whole village moved to the cemetery. High noon: high weeds and locusts mince the sun. We walk the streets in the cutting wind, the abandoned homes looking as if the inhabitants left in a hurry: piles of things, cars, tin tubs, a tractor, tools, houses with furniture inside, and lace curtains at the windows, empty chicken coops, sheep pens, and satellite dishes on the roofs. It’s true, you can’t take anything with you.
The cemetery extended its new developments into the cornfield. Through the dappled shade, red rows of lord’s cows climb the walls.
The caterpillars devoured the plum trees, the Rose of Sharon, the cherry, locust, mulberry, and walnut trees, leaving them bare, brown, disfigured, covered in sticky webs, skeletons instead of leaves.
We find the house invaded, furry creatures clinging on curtains and walls, falling in cups, twitching on the porch, too many for sparrows and swallows to eat.
Unhurried, they won’t stop chewing, the silent crawl and chew of life and death.
This summer, and every summer, they win.
Like charms on the road ribbon, we carry everything with us: the abandoned church with all its saints, the wild cannabis, the caterpillars, the people who moved away and the ones who were disappeared, the old women who stayed behind, and the ghosts.
We start dying when we’re born, I tell you, and place the charm bracelet on your wrist. This will remind you the wild cannabis country is waiting, but you only have to go back once a year. It will remind you how far we’ve come, my dear. How long we have to go.