October 19, 2018 § 12 Comments
By Adrielle Stapleton
Peace finds me sometimes, in spite of my best efforts and the conspiracies of my brain. I look up from my task, and peace is there. Today it finds me as I am sitting alone in my little enclosed back patio. The high brick walls trap sunshine that bakes my small container garden. I have cherry tomatoes in blue 5-gallon buckets, an enormous eggplant in flower, Thai Basil, fennel, parsley.
I am cutting up my old manuscripts into slender strips of paper to feed into the vermicompost, feeding my words to the worms. Worms are easy pets, but they need a balanced diet of kitchen scraps and carbon bedding, damp paper or cardboard. After a few rounds of reading drafts in workshops, I have many hard copies of marked-up essays and stories. I want them to become something.
I have left the worms without food for months. I was tired of checking them and finding no progress, so I ignored them. Now they have eaten everything and they are restless. When I feed them, they stay down below, working quietly and slowly, digesting, reproducing. I can leave them alone for weeks and they will not die. But today they are crawling out.
I swish the paper strips through lukewarm water to speed up the decomposition process. Along with words, my worms like food that is already rotting. Coffee filters full of grounds, banana peels, mushy foods. Slowly they turn waste into something that will feed us. Their castings enrich my potted garden.
I don’t mind that my creations end up in the worm bucket. This is how things go. An ancient poet wrote a poem about how his poems would end the day as a wrapper for fish. But this displacement from view can be generative. At Oxyrhyncus the diggers find lost Sappho poems in a trash heap. I begin writing about a prosaic moment and through multiple drafts, letting go and revisiting with fresh eyes, an internal subconscious digesting, I mysteriously discover my secrets and how to tell them.
My husband is not so sure about my worms. He does not like to know they are in our house, with their rotting food. He especially does not like it when they begin to crawl out of their container. Who can blame him. He did not ask for a wife who is composting rotting scraps and turning it into material, and then turning that material into rotting scraps.
But I am losing my grasp of edges in a world that is constantly shifting, and want to overlay the clean cartography of metaphors and symbolism onto the slippery forms that I do not understand. I need to map my drafts onto the compost and my finished pieces onto the dusky red cherry tomatoes. I need my garden, and my ugly worm bucket, and my ugly drafts, and the way that they all reassure me that the becoming and unbecoming are a process, steady and imperceptible, organic and life-giving, and when I trust the process, sometimes peaceful.
Adrielle Stapleton received her MA in Classics at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She writes and composts in Lexington, Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter at @adri_staple