Five Micro-Essays

Nonfiction / Nicole Walker

:: Microbags ::

At Fry’s Gro­cery and Drug­store, the plas­tic bags are tint­ed brown. Thin enough to see through, they should be strong enough to hold at least three items. But the clerks at Fry’s dig their hands into the abun­dance of bags and love them for their sin­gu­lar­i­ty. Stacked like mon­ey, peeled like saw­bucks, a bag wraps a car­ton of eggs. Anoth­er, for a half gal­lon of orange juice. Anoth­er for a pound of but­ter. Anoth­er for a quart of milk. A loaf of bread. You know the song. Each bag makes each item pre­cious. How can I eat this but­ter now? I should pre­serve it in a cab­i­net of won­der, but by the time I get home the cab­i­net of won­der becomes mere­ly a refrig­er­a­tor. The loaf of bread. The quart of milk. Each item re-shelved in the ice­box of my future—I now can make béchamel, French toast, Crème Anglaise, Pas­ta Car­bonara, coun­tries of recipes, thanks to bags of per­ma­nence and trans­porta­tion.

The bags, emp­tied, do not realign. I can­not stack them. They do not fit in my bill­fold. I bunch them up. I crush them into the reusable can­vas bags that I some­times remem­ber to take to the store. The bags live in the garage. Unlike the refrig­er­a­tor, the garage is not air­tight. Some­times, I leave the garage door open. Some­times, there is a wind. Some­times the wind comes in and steals the plas­tic bags as if the wind had some gro­ceries to make pre­cious. The wind takes the bags, plas­ters them against pon­derosa, wraps them around pinecone, flags them against a decay­ing stick. The stick isn’t going any­where now. The pon­derosas are pre­served. The pinecones, seed­ing inside of the bag, with the ben­e­fit of a dusty rain, grow their own tree inside the bag. Inside the bag is a per­fect micro­cosm. A hun­dred mil­lion indi­vid­ual tiny plan­ets float­ing across the state, blow­ing their fore­vers across the high­way, through the forests, across the ocean, estab­lish­ing them­selves as sin­gu­lar as con­ti­nen­tal cash. 

:: Microchip ::

Lays were her favorite. So were Ruf­fles. She didn’t mind Fritos. Ket­tle-brand organ­ic were fine. She missed reg­u­lar Dori­tos but that didn’t make her unique. Every­one miss­es reg­u­lar Dori­tos. One thing you can count on, flee­ing the Mid­west for the west coast, is an ample sup­ply of vend­ing machines. Vend­ing machines are por­tals toward free­dom. They are the dial-uppers toward the next town. They do not store mem­o­ries in their machines, just quar­ters of smudged fin­ger­prints. No one can catch you, preg­nant and six­teen, if you keep your feet to the right of the asphalt’s white line and your stom­ach pumped full of you-do-the-math: four­teen hun­dred calo­ries per bag, each bag a dol­lar and a quar­ter. If you can mul­ti­ply, your fac­tor is the pota­to chip. Too much togeth­er­ness and you beget a prod­uct.

If she would have stayed home, she could have saved up those quar­ters, a dol­lar twen­ty-five a day, but it would have tak­en her half her life to halve her life and she didn’t have the right phone num­bers.

She didn’t like call­ing the baby baby. She called it crunchy. She called it salty. She called it full of mal­todex­trin. She nev­er thought she was hurt­ing the pota­to. She nev­er thought, as she hitch­hiked through Ida­ho, that the road doesn’t always go west. Some­times it turns south, toward Utah. Some­times, the abor­tion providers, even in Mor­mon town, take one look in your eyes and give you a dis­count. She skips lunch the next day because, thank god, she’s not so hun­gry any­more. That night, she forces her­self to eat a chip. She was afraid the chip would floun­der. That it would fall sog­gy in her mouth. But it didn’t. It was crisp and salty and as nutri­tious as it had been the day before. Not every­thing changes. 

:: Microtrain ::

A reg­u­lar-sized train can’t do it. The tracks criss­cross in too many lay­ers. There is not enough mon­ey in the world to build four mil­lion bridges deep. But if the train is small enough, fiber optic, micro­scop­ic, the tracks could bend and weave and thread. Instead of stop­ping at cross­ings for cars or for anti-abor­tion pro­test­ers, the veins could thread like those in a body. In that body, red could stand for oxy­gen and blue for car­bon diox­ide and the world would be hap­py to get and return either. In a body, the reliance on input and out­put would be a fair and rea­son­able thing. In the lungs, the car­bon diox­ide exchanges for oxy­gen with the jus­tice of sto­i­chiom­e­try.  Trans­for­ma­tion is always pos­si­ble. The oxy­gen has per­sua­sive argu­ments. The CO2 has its own. No cell changes its body, it just changes its mind. This body holds its pow­er in its tiny mito­chon­dr­i­al engines—forward mov­ing but not at any­one else’s great expense. This is a kind of coun­try I could live in. One day, I will be small enough. 

:: Microsoccer ::

I tried to bring a book. I tried to bring a chair. I tried to talk to the oth­er moms. I tried to talk to the dads. I tried to bring the team snack but failed, bring­ing car­rots, which chil­dren do not con­sid­er a snack. I tried to get a sense of rules that say you can’t kick the ball first if you’re the one who kicked it off, but I think I have that wrong too. I tried to pull the grass and eat the milky ends, but there was elk shit all over and dog piss prob­a­bly too. Real­ly, there was noth­ing to eat except car­rots and there­fore I had a hard time pay­ing atten­tion. She didn’t kick the ball hard enough and when she did kick it, the ball went out of bounds. Some­times, she kicked it the wrong direc­tion. Some­times, some­one kicked it hard in the wrong direc­tion and all the kids ran all the way out of bounds, off­sides, down the hill, over elk shit and dog piss chas­ing a ball that would nev­er come back. For me, it was good for a metaphor anyway—soccer balls as youth or boys or hun­gry mem­bers of the Cervi­dae fam­i­ly look­ing for edi­ble grass on the oth­er side of the moun­tain where per­haps the fire or the drought didn’t wipe all the grass out. Metaphor breaks all the rules. Unlike youth and boys, the ball comes back. Maybe edi­ble grass too.

I apol­o­gize for the melo­dra­ma. But I need to stay here and think about the end of the world because I wasn’t going to get up off my chair or put down my book and join them in chas­ing that ball. I knew I’d nev­er catch it and the team would nev­er for­give me for get­ting in the way of a game whose rules have noth­ing to do with a les­son on how to eat the crumbs of bro­ken metaphors.

:: Microsmooth ::

You have to sound hyped up. You have to sound breath­less. You have to use words like “broad­ly-con­nect­ed” and “an approach unusu­al­ly tak­en.” You have to make it sound like this is their good news too, even though you’re the one going to be on TV. You have to believe that we all share in the wealth of the land, that we all share in the wealth, that we all share in the wealth of the wealthy land that is TV to make it clear to them that this is their good oppor­tu­ni­ty although they them­selves will not be on TV. TV is where they offer micros­mooth tech­nol­o­gy to cov­er up your micro­p­ores because if you are on TV the cam­era adds expo­nents to your skin, yours, not theirs, grate­ful­ly, since TV is not for every­one. How­ev­er news is for every­one and you and they can stand togeth­er and hold hands, although you will be out in front and they will stand just a touch to the side, a lit­tle far­ther, and unit­ed in this endeav­or. To insure, because that’s what this moment is, insur­ance in the wealth of nations, insur­ance that we will all go on shar­ing in the wealth of land and nation and TV,  this moment is as good as can be, you assure them they can let go and applaud. Just the sound of hands clap­ping sends good news right through your skin. 

 From the Writer

:: Account ::

When I wrote these microes­says, I was work­ing on a big essay project about microor­gan­isms. These microor­gan­isms did such amaz­ing things: they could reduce pol­lu­tants in water by chem­i­cal­ly engag­ing with the pol­lu­tant. They wouldn’t so much eat them as throw off elec­trons, chang­ing the chem­i­cal make-up of say, nitrate, which is bad, into nitro­gen, which is good. What I loved was the way microor­gan­isms could adapt to their sur­round­ings while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly adapt­ing their surroundings—just like humans. It made me think how every­thing adapts its envi­ron­ment to suit it. So does the writ­ing. How could I write a big gigan­tic essay that tried to tell a very long sto­ry about the behav­ior of microor­gan­isms? If I real­ly want­ed to tell a sto­ry about things micro, I should tell it micro­scop­i­cal­ly. Or at least briefly. In these short essays, I strove for dynamism and adapt­abil­i­ty. In brevi­ty, you can duck and cov­er. You can wrap your mind ful­ly around one idea. Like a cam­era, you can take a big idea, put a frame around it and make it small. Small enough to mat­ter. 

 

Nicole Walk­ers non­fic­tion book, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, won the 2011 Zone 3 non­fic­tion prize (Zone 3 Press, 2013). She is also the author of a col­lec­tion of poems, This Noisy Egg (Bar­row Street, 2010). She edit­ed, along with Mar­got Singer, Bend­ing Genre: Essays on Non­fic­tion, which was released by Blooms­bury in March 2013. She is non­fic­tion edi­tor at Dia­gram and asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­si­ty