Bundles of Three

Bundles of Three

K. Gene Friedman

Curbside, daytime hazard lights delimit a polished log loitering parallel to parked cars, a personal injury lawsuit in repose; metal threaded through its pliant core like graphite bloating the gut of an analog pencil. The evenness and imagination of a lonesome Tinker Toy, I squat bedside to interrogate its destiny: a dry-cleaning ticket stapled to its spiral of years à la Paddington Bear’s duffle coat, wine cork toggles fastening, cardstock luggage tag dangling… Please look after…

Brierfield, Alabama—its origin, embryology, infancy. 2/50—its order, as if second in a run of fifty fine art prints, separated at birth, limited edition. PECO—its owner, a fledgling utility pole it is to be raised by a provider of electricity that falters in the sweat of droning accordion window units and slushy popsicles. Be mindful of your refrigerator door, your outlets to the external; conserve the pockets of cold you harbor.

Under late-stage capitalism, the A/S/L of West Philly’s Facebook group:

49th and Larchwood: lights flickering.
51st and Spruce: power back on.

 The scattershot shuffle of resource redistribution:

Anyone got space for me to store my insulin at?
Ready to dive!? Whole Foods employees hauling cases of freezer food out back.

An improbable journey—spanning seven states—to support an elevated highway of power lines. I envision the bedraggled tree: dismantled, decapitated, dismembered, filed to fit the geometry of the pencil box truck; claws clenching the sapped Southern soil. Its forty-nine siblings: stapled, seat belted into place. Flakey scales of grout brown and burnt sienna stripped off like guilty fingerprints; mummified corpses laid to rest along grimy West Philadelphian sidewalks.

The cultural anthropologist I’m dating, who will not be defined by labels, is taken by Pinus palustris, otherwise known as the longleaf pine—a species of evergreen distinguished by needles in bundles of three, its grisly history. Used as tar, pitch, and turpentine for naval ships; now, lumber for suburban development. Its once dominant community supplanted in shoulder-to-shoulder forests where wildfires cannot sweep to clear out competition.

Together, we locate Brierfield on his laptop screen, plus- and minus-sign in and out of the region, straddle a Google Earth satellite and soar. Our summer limbs stuck to the tattered sleeping bag sheeting his hand-me-down floor mattress. In the swampy, second-story bedroom where he will not avail of A/C. Out of deference to bug mating calls, the harmonic convergence of male and female mosquito flight tones.

Below: a bounty of Baptist churches, forests identified as plantations, a coal mine museum catalogued in the Register of Landmarks & Heritage. Clouds of Pine canopies looming on slanted thickets like crooked rain. The dense grids of wooden pegs, planted to be plucked from the land, reminding of the solitaire boards that occupied me as an only child at a family-style restaurant in Nowhereville, Pennsylvania. Where the owners had likely tired of replenishing snapped crayons, tear-off placemats: probably also of Alabama—their embryology, infancy.

K. Gene Friedman