Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Sarah Fawn Montgomery writes about Halfway from Home, her new essay collection out from Split/Lip Press.
If Halfway from Home were a road it would be a dusty California backroad meandering through the golden hills on a slow stretch out to a beach to watch the waves before winding back home again. It would be a road lined with oak trees and bright poppies, low wooden fences asking you to crawl right over and sit a while. It would be a road you travel while sun splays across the dash, your pulse slowing with your speed as an old song comes on the radio to make you hope and hurt so good.
If Halfway from Home were a storm it would be a tornado, like the ones you encountered when you left California to make your home in Nebraska, their sudden tension and pressure, the way the air went green and smelled metallic, a funnel clotting out the sky, birds flying into the sides of buildings before the flood came.
If Halfway from Home were a fossil it would be a plesiosaur dug up from a Midwest farm as a reminder that everything evolves, that nothing is permanent and nature is always shifting beneath our feet, even sea creatures once surviving on the open Plains.
If Halfway from Home were a tree it would be the California oaks you made forts of as a child, prevented lovers from carving into as teen, the ones whose acorns you palmed like prayer, the ones now threatened by fires each warming year.
If Halfway from Home were a moon phase it would be waning crescent, time always running out—to gather shells and stones as a child, to claim a home as your own as an adult, to see your aging parents, to save the natural world from storm and surge.
If Halfway from Home were a butterfly it would be a viceroy, those orange and black mimics you spy during short summers from your new place in Massachusetts, the ones that make your heart swell for California across the country. On the West Coast, the monarchs gather for warmth each winter in a eucalyptus grove near where you grew up, their assembly ensuring their survival, the trees rustling with wing and whisper, branches dripping with jeweled color.
If Halfway from Home were a bird it would be a bright cardinal in the bleak of a New England winter, the way it streams across a world buried in white snow like blood, like burst, like something still beating.
If Halfway from Home were a tooth it would be that of a whale, the surface etched with anecdote, scrimshaw a reminder that scars tell a story.
If Halfway from Home were a rock it would be volcanic obsidian. Black like your father’s halfmoon fingernails after a day building fences along California’s coasts, black like the cancer on his scans, black like the dark clouds of a storm growing overhead, black like smoke from the future on fire. Obsidian forms when a volcano explodes and cools to glass—brittle, easily fractured, a weapon and a wonder, capable of cutting you even as it reflects your image.
If Halfway from Home were grass it would be Nebraska prairie grass, that mixture of bluestem, and wildrye you discovered the first time you left home, whose growth is mostly unseen, roots stretching a dozen feet down and twice as wide beneath the surface. It knows survival requires deep roots. The prairie will burn—this is inevitable—but prairie grass endures, rises stronger from the smoking soil to thrive fragrant and green.
Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Halfway from Home (Split/Lip Press), Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press), and three poetry chapbooks. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery