Basil for Donald by Geri Lipschultz

He had come to say he and Barbara were going to the deli to pick up dinner and didn’t I at least want a drink.

I was weeding the basil, trying to find it among all the weeds, that is.

He asked me about my writing.

I said a lot of women, hardly a man in it.

He said, well, you need a lot of sex in it.

I reflected silently on the near absence of sex in the book I was trying to write.

He said, everybody can relate to a book with a lot of sex, you know.

And I looked at him, at his eyes piercingly clear, as only the eyes of a man of the land can be, and over the miniscule bits of basil and the now cleared plot of dry dirt on either side of it, I said, people are going through a lot of soul searching these days, and this book tries to give some answers.

That’s when he looked at me, and said, well, I ain’t got a soul. I left it in a bar years ago.

I got that feeling I had sometimes when it seemed my students had dismissed the possibility of writing, never even let it drift near consciousness.

He said he figured he wasn’t smart enough, not educated enough. 

The way I look at it, I said, all you need is a good story.

Spelling, he said—and vocabulary.

I said, you’re not going to get a story out of good spelling. You just have to be willing to sit there and do the work.  See—like farming, I said. But really, farming is a lot more work.

He said he knew lots of stories, and I said, well it’s not just the story, it’s your way of telling it that matters, like the way he said that thing about losing his soul.

He smiled and said I could use it whenever I wanted.

I said, no—you use it.

He said he doubted if he’d ever use it himself but asked for me to acknowledge him if I ever did use it, and then his smile turned into a laugh.

There was something really right about the fact that we were both crawling on the earth and it was his land, his and Barbara’s, but it was still the earth, which in some way is everybody’s. The sky seemed so large, and he seemed large, too. 

Cars passing by a couple of hundred feet away seemed to make themselves heard, suddenly. He looked up for a minute. Had someone in one of those cars called his name?

He asked me why I never let him read that book I wrote that he’d given me information for, about fighting in Korea, mainly.

I said it was too long, and he didn’t have time for it with this farm to run and all, but in truth I was waiting for a publisher to come around before I let anyone read one of my novels. More devastating than a rejection from a publisher is a rejection from someone who actually knows you. But I didn’t tell him any of that. 

I said I had plenty of time to read anything he wanted to write.

He looked away in that far-off place again and paused. I mean really paused, and I thought it good to say, “Maybe it’s Barbara.”

“Maybe,” he said, getting up. “Sure you don’t want anything to drink?”

“No thanks,” I said, and then I was alone again, my mind rich with the weeds.


Geri Lipschultz has published in the New York Times, Ms. Magazine, The Rumpus, the Toast, Black Warrior Review, College English and others. Her work appears in Pearson’s college literature anthology and in Spuyten Duyvil’s The Wreckage of Reason II. She teaches writing at Hunter College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Geri was awarded a CAPS grant from New York State. Her one-woman show “Once Upon the Present Time” was produced in NYC by Woodie King, Jr.

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