Back Up Train
Al Greene and the Soul Mates
Autumn is upon us. Leaves are turning, those birds that leave have left, the rabbits are spending less time sitting out in the fields. Outside I gentle around. Water the rosemary and the lovage and check the kale. I sit on the bench near the stream. I take a book with me but I don’t read. The threat of rain has passed. Our twisted hazel is stooping in the wind. I watch the leaves pulse and flutter. It was the first thing we planted, 17 years ago. We brought it home in a two-inch pot. I also brought home a spade, a bag of compost, a rake, a hoe, a circle of wire, a level, a pitchfork, gloves, a drill, birdseed, an axe, a saw. I brought home things I did and didn’t need. I was thinking: you never know. The hazel now takes up an entire corner of the garden. I still have the spade, the hoe, the axe, the rake, the saw. I pick up a Kawabata novel I’ve read ten times already, open it to my oak leaf bookmark, and enjoy it again, as if never seen.
The time has come for Al Greene as he was before he became what he is. Back when he still had an extra E tacked to the end of his name. Back when he was singing cheap in Texas dance halls. I play ‘Back Up Train’ not just to remind myself that humans can, occasionally, create beauty, but to remind myself that you never know. For instance: there was Al Greene playing some pitiful dive and Willie Mitchell, the great Memphis producer, comes in for a drink. He listens to a few songs and says: come to Memphis with me right now, tonight, on my bus, and I’ll make you a star. You never know. You. Just. Never. Know.
In the evenings I often leave little offerings out on the deck, things I collect on my walks, mossy pebbles or seed pods or feathers or rusty nails. Come morning they’re always either gone or pushed around. It’s a kind of conversation I have with the unseen. It’s my way of saying: you never know.