blooming red poppies growing in nature

The Poppy Diaries 1: Dead Earth


I bought myself some poppy seeds. They came with an ugly stainless steel planter that looks like a giant naked tin can, and a plastic bag full of soil mixed with polystyrene pebbles. The whole process was meant to be easy – pour the easy draining soil mixture into the tin can, pat the poppy seeds onto the top of the soil, but do not cover, water; leave in sunlight and in a couple of weeks see some shoots. Except I always have to make things difficult, or at least messy. I failed to realize that the bottom of the can had a large hole drilled into it, and the dry potting mix spilled out onto my favorite tablecloth, the cream one with the yellow pineapples printed onto it. Of course it is cotton and easily stained. I have a little stack of terracotta saucers for my various planters, but they were all in use. I had just put a little cactus arm embedded in some wet cotton wool into one of them, to see if I could get it to sprout. The cactus arm was looking rather shriveled anyway, so that went into the trash and the ugly planter went onto the freed up dish.

I have built in bookshelves and a nook which used to house a real fireplace. The chimney has long been blocked off. The sofa fits into the nook nicely, and my shelves have started to fill with second hand books, my writing notes, a stringy indoor bamboo plant, a Detroit circa ’22 drug box, which is filled with marijuana buds, thc infused mints and sublingual strips, two tabs of allegedly very strong acid given to me by an elderly and very hip friend, that have a disappointingly plain sun printed onto them, a small baggie of magic mushrooms and some attractive but worthy of suspicion DMT. I have yet to touch the psychedelics. In times gone by all drugs went to Billy. I appear to have inherited his ability to attract a semi serious drug collection. San Francisco never disappoints me with its inexorable drag towards the door opening, free wheelin’ hipness that it always has had. Despite the techies and mid western entrepreneurial transplants attempts at bleeding the heart out of San Francisco that have partially succeeded, the vein runs too deep through this City on the Bay, right through the underground heart that lays within the breast of North Beach, and the neon sunshine brain of Haight Ashbury.

I can almost let myself remember now I have space within my life to do so. That peace and purpose that the best of the days on the road gave me, that feeling of jumping out of the old camper van onto the tarmac of an Oregonian Coast parking lot, a fistful of dollar bills in my hand, and a mission to find discounted food: end of day Walmart pizza for the kids, bags of bruised apples and green potatoes discounted to a buck for me, sometimes is allowed to resurface if the day allows it to. My recent days have been full of minor irritations. Fire alarms that sound for hours, ignored until I find a way to disconnect them, calling the landlord first to ask what he wants me to do, out of sheer fear that stopping the noise might mean some kind of censure along the way, broken heating that leaves us freezing, windows whose ancient mechanisms final ly snap and send the window hurtling downwards on my hands, people fighting outside my window, all of this and more conspire to drag me down, haul me under and destroy any inner equilibrium I might have managed to hold onto. I am convinced at this point in my existence, having lived at least five different lives in various incarnations upon this world, in an attempt to stay alive and with my child, that it is sometimes better to keep things the way they are. Not all progress is good, nor easy, nor desirable, at least not for me. Sometimes I have those days that I wake up, and despite my better efforts, things change irrevocably for the worse. Sometimes the world will not let things remain delicately happy for me. Those stapgnation pools that gather on the outskirts of my life are rarely deep enough to drown in. Tiptoes generally suffice to keep my chin above the unchanging water line in that mundane ground. It is not stagnation I fear.

The wilder, freer part of my life, however, has left craters and canyons. Those life-changing asteroid bombs that drop frequently upon my world, whilst the realities of those around me remain stubbornly stable on their own less hostile continents. My canyons provide a superhighway to the center of the earth and all the fiery annihilation I could ever dream up in the most disturbing of bad trips. Those changes are deep enough to drown in for sure. The rest of the world doesn’t even see that those canyons are there. They are not part of the common topography, and as a result the normal world floats above these holes as if they are somehow blessed and sanctified and gifted wings that I could never materialize. I feel undead. I am ultra-alive. The flowers I plant suck the rich decay from the ground I seed.

This room remains stubbornly cold. The landlord sent a man around to fix the heater. He was not qualified to do so. Not licensed to be dealing with liquid propane. He told me if the carbon monoxide alarm went off to open a window to stop it. I don’t fancy risking my life to do so.

There are bookcases built around an enclave that used to be a fireplace at the end of my living room that I use as a kinda bedsit area. The Boy has the bedroom. I am quite happy in my room. There are flowers on my bedspread, and Georgia O’Keefe poppies on the wall above my bed. I have a poster with Alice and the caterpillars smoking a hookah on the shroom that reads Feed Your Head. I have felt a certain sense of peace and purposefulness since I have been living here, a sense that I have not felt much since the better days on the road. If I close my eyes I can see myself jumping outta that beat up old camper van in an Oregonian coast parking lot, looking back over my shoulder at Billy and the kids waving to me. I was going to try and find cheap apples and potatoes that were on the turn, and therefore discounted, to try and fill the stomachs of four people, or at least the smallest two of ’em. I can hear Billy’s voice deep and drawling, trailing through the bright summer sea salty air. He is shouting to me as I exit the camper side door, shouting at me to get something for myself, something nice. I never do. My something nice is being with him and the kids. I didn’t need anything else, but man, how much did I need that. I didn’t even get to keep my niceness. It has drained away. I am not nice anymore. I am not affectionate. I am not trusting. i am not happy. I have no one to play the guitar for. I have no one that thinks I am great. I am fading along with his memory.


The poppy seeds come in foil packets small enough to turn over and over between my fingers. Californian Poppy. Californianpoppy…californian….poppy….It sounds like an incarnation or a spell. I have said them so many times they ceases to make sense any more. I seeded cheap plastic pots with coriander, some with italian basil, a few with rosemary and thyme. In the largest deepest pot I threw in the poppy seeds. When I bought the poppies I was not aware that they were firstly, the state flower of California, a sure sign they are not opiate producing poppies, and secondly that the round little bastards were not opiate producing poppies. Whilst I have no interest in bleeding the adult plants of their latex – that would be highly illegal, I was romantically engaged with growing some opium poppies. Something about the thought of having their heavy podded heads nodding in my room made me feel strangely comforted. Perhaps it was the possibility of a free range morphine habit. In reality enough latex to make even one shot involves many many poppies, and a habit would require a farm full of the beautiful purple, or red and white crossed bastards.

It makes sense becoming a gardener after all this time. I like watering my plants. The low maintenance but fussy cactuses and succulents and the thirsty and fragrant hyacinths are my friends. There is no need to wear the bottoms of my skinny jeans rolled like TS Elliot, but I am getting old and set in my ways. The plants never answer back, they just bend their pretty heads towards the light and sometimes give me flowers. After all the burrs in my hand from caring for my tall woolly cactus, I hope it will flower for me soon. It is meant to bloom in January or February, but I figure him to be temperamental and unwilling to flower, despite my tender ministrations. There is something about my little garden on the window seat that makes reality bearable. No more love affairs, no more fertile hopes, or sweet companionship. No more dreams of farmhouses and good dogs. There is little point in trying any longer. I have had my time and all that is left for me is to write and perhaps tend to the gardens of others and their dreams. I might be withering and turning to seed but seeing others thrive feels like raising a finger to the prevailing wind and pissing right into it. I never did care about splashback. Muddied situations, forcing growth from destruction, those are things I know how to do.

Yes, I enjoy gardening. My little pots are not going to break my back any further than it is right now. The pain is almost exquisite. Every time I move daggers in my spin slip and stab into my core, my hip starts to scream, and my legs shake. I suppose it is time to accept I am not entirely well. I healed as much as it was possible to heal and this is what I am left with: pain. The poppies are still not showing any signs of life. I threw some mixed papaver somniferum seeds into the soil alongside the flashy California poppy seeds. Maybe one or two will grow. It struck me that I have never seen an opium poppy in the ‘flesh’, despite having emptied more of their processed latex into my veins over the years than I care to remember. Each kick is worse than the one before. I know if I go back to it, when I go back to it, I will be doing the shake rattle and roll within a day or two. It’s part of what keeps me straight in lieu of fields of breadseed poppies and a license to milk the motherfuckers.

I dream at night that my fingers are green and tendrils spring from my mouth and nose and ears and pussy. I exude green shoots. I am becoming one with the earth again. Who needs shrooms. I read somewhere that the California Sober designation includes shrooms as well as acid. It gives me slight comfort, and a wry smile. Note that is a wry smile, not a Rye Smile. I am not drinking. I made it through the festive period and all the pain and sorrow and desolation without letting a drop pass my lips. The idea of being sloppy does not appeal to me right now. I don’t think it ever will again. Booze took away too much from me to even consider it an option….

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