Growing Season

The grapes are teenagers, but they look like babies.  They are the size of big peas, but a different green, a lighter, clearer green, a green that says I am not ready.

They are hard like plastic buttons, and the last part of their maturing is to just swell and swell.  Juice.  To become almost hollow, to stretch their grape skins and leave a little grape flesh, but mostly to turn the moisture of the ground into their own concoction.

When the grapes are grown up, the morning when they are real boys, the birds will know and they will envelop the vines and try to get their beaks through the netting.  The vines make grapes to attract animals who will eat and poop, but the planter of the vines grew the vines to make wine.  The whole process of farming, in fact is to squirrel away for humans what plants have learned to offer everyone.  It’s a shady business.

Five times the dancers came out and for once, the only time, in my life, I was willing to suspend my own dancing in order to watch them.  For once, I did not resent the interruption of my own fun.  First against the painted gears of a “Dancing Machine” set, then in African military dictator garb, then in gangster suits, and ending with the zombie rags of “Thriller.”  I don’t much like to watch dance, but watching Michael Jackson (or his imitator) dance entrances me.

The way he was able to hold tension in some parts of his body, and remain completely lax in others, changing his decision about where the tension was, and showing the loss of that tension and how elegant and pert that could be, the way he was able to control the pace of time with the powerful action of remaining still at a certain moment in the music, the way his body was a full expression of what he had to say, and overwhelmed his sense of alienation from his appearance, which you knew, from watching him morph, had to be a great friction, a dragging weight on his whole life.  His life was crippled by too much power.  No one could say no to him.  He had art, at least.  That is something.

Of course I was most interested in the red grapes—I am most interested in the most colorful of anything—and a few of the red grapes are about to experience veraison, as I was enlightened by the vintner.  They had sunbursts of purple, the fuzziness of lights through rain, that were not bruises but the first indication that they were growing up.  They would be bloody purple grapes, the grapes that make a terrible stain, a great dye, the juice I like and the wine I like.  (Aside: In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they have a veraison-themed festival every year for their grapes, a sort of grape bar mitzvah.)

Every time I said, “the vineyard,” which is what it is, a place where grapes are planted and tended and harvested, it sounded Biblical to me, which is an indicator of how I am like Emily Dickinson and many writers who have been dead for a long time.  Luckily, there are still a few of my type to keep me company.

The guy dancing Michael Jackson showed all the things Jackson did with his body, the shoulder jerks, looseness and intricacy of footwork, and the people who danced with him mirror almost all the choreography, which blows it up big enough that you can see how interesting the moves are, and how Jackson (and the dancer there in his role) were the sharpest dancers of the group, the one smiled on, the one brimming over with energy and ideas, rather than just full.

The grapes and the wine I visited are treated with kindness.  Hand-trimmed, hand-sprayed for fungus, hand-examined for damage from drifting pesticide clouds in nearby parts, hand-hauled, hand-corked.  Machine squashed and machine bottled (it is the twenty-first century).

Although I have little interest in domesticating dance, that is, writing it down, creating routines, pieces, practicing them, learning them, seeing them done, the Jackson performance didn’t feel nailed down or dead.  I could see the tender attention in the carefully painted tombstones, the way not a single dancer made a single mistake, in the blast of light from their props for one number, horns plugged with bright bulbs that were waved at the audience.  Everything about that felt alive.

If only people will love what I did so much that they learn it and recreate it in a little club out by the interstate, a little nowhere in no place with no connection to anything, reenacted it with such reverence.  The same way people repeatedly play Beethoven, people replay Michael Jackson’s work.  Who knows how long it will last?

Barrels to store wine, to age it, will not become themselves unless they are filled with water.  Barrels, the Tupperware of all centuries before the last couple, were lying around in the wine-making room.  Some are full of wine, ready to be hooked to the bottling machine, and some are waiting for wine.

The vintner showed me one with a significant crack in it, a gap between the wooden ribs.  And another, which had been filled with water.  The water makes the wood swell, and the barrel seals itself.  It becomes itself by being unable to do its job, that is, leaking out everywhere for a while, and then becomes itself, absorbing enough water that the slices of its body press against each other and work together.  Then it will hold.

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