In a fifty minute span of time yesterday afternoon I impulse purchased a floor length gown embroidered with birds of paradise, a perfume that claims to smell exactly like Northern Arizona, six empanadas, and a dozen packets of heirloom seeds named things like “My Lover Lies Bleeding,” and “Pride of Gibraltar,” all of which served as proof that the farther north I go the more I long for south as a noun. South, where South means mangroves and desert both, wide porches and hacienda houses, Southwest as made famous by Joan Didion, the heavy death of Nevadan air, South as Lana del Rey’s fever dream, South where the saguaro don’t die, South without the racism, without the blood in the dirt, South as it never was, never will be, amen.
The South creeps up in me like a vine, like mental illness, ensnaring me while I am unaware. When I eventually take notice I find I am in cowboy boots in a downtown Washington, listening to The Secret Sisters and saving photos of Phoenix street art on my phone, I am too far gone to let it do anything other than bloom.
Washington DC in August smells like when you leave your lake water wet bathing suit crumpled in a backpack and pull it out four days later, still warm to to touch and damp, but not molding. It is a city with southern humidity and northern sensibilities in a month where I am weak with desire to retreat back to the Tennessee homestead of my youth, to the glittering mirage of nuclear family unity and the illusion that any of us were ever morally pure. In August I allow myself to be momentarily swept up in the tall tales of American history. I lie in my bathtub, eating cherries by the fistful, reading everything written by Zelda Fitzgerald, rereading Rachel Syme’s old Dry Down newsletters about New Mexico. I allow her desert air to sweep away my reality; my city is a government office on a tidal flat that for the last three years is a swamp that refuses to drain, instead overflows with bloodsuckers bringing the joint diseases of fascism and super-capitalism.
DC Central Detention Facility, the only jail in this sanctuary city, has transferred 40 residents to ICE, and has now begun notifying ICE which individuals in their custody have immigration detainers. My neighbourhood grows emptier by the day. I love the South of stories because it does not deal in reality, but in absolutes. Neighbours always defend one another. The horizon stretches out eternally. Truth can never lose. I love the South because it is such a comforting lie.
My dewy daydreams will evaporate next week as the long rot of autumn descends upon us. We will dream collectively of October, of freshly sharpened pencils, linoleum hallway floors, the crisp promise of a fresh start, the new deceit of a fiscal and school year with no eraser marks, only the first perfect bite of an apple, unblemished and unbruised.