I held my bottle of SPF 45 and a three-foot long knife. A few days later I learned the tool was called a machete, which made me want to paint my face with mud and wear camouflage pants. I didn't cut down unwanted weeds in a sea of soybeans — the ones that all the chemical pesticides couldn't kill. I hunted them, sniffing them out and sneaking in with guerilla tactics. Sliding the sunburned metal into the Button weed, sunflower, marijuana heart. The blade shone with sticky wetness, plant blood if you will. I would. I did. And I enjoyed it, except that I smelled like Chris's basement. He owned a gold elephant keychain that opened like the animal had been sliced elegantly in half. He smoked what he kept in the elephant. The yellow pollen that saturated my sweaty skin stank like the inside of that elephant, thick and lingering. I rubbed my cap against my forehead and held it between my dirt-encrusted knees. I needed more sunscreen. I always needed more sunscreen.

My necessary addiction to things coconut scented followed me into the field and reminded my coworkers that I had high maintenance skin. My freckles were their concern, and roughly every four hours a voice would rise over the tractors and pipe trailers and my bottle of sunscreen sailed toward me. Thanks to this game, a bit of the topsoil on the land we worked was equally protected. It also meant I got to take a quick break, slathering the melted goop into the dirt that clung to the previous layer. For seven years I exfoliated my cheeks, chin and ears with South Central Nebraskan dirt. Rubbing in the ammonia, pesticides, and well water that ensured a higher yield. Even my lips couldn't escape the tendency to freckle. My hands remain two different colors. Skin, just like any mind, has its bi-polar tendencies and slides in and out of frame if it has too much room to move.

That must have been the reason we all needed some kind of protection from the fields: you couldn't stand still in a place that owns so much room. We conformed to the empty space around us, leaking out like antifreeze, sweet to taste with varying amounts of food coloring dripped and swirled in slowly for affect. Confined by the steep rows we stumbled through, ankles leaning side to side, only feet felt claustrophobic. They suffocated in the thin dust devils that made tourists passing through tremble at the imposter tornados. We ate and drank the dust daily with our lunches of cold leftovers, a can of cheap beer, and water from the kind of tap you can find at campsites. It either drips or sputters, soaking through your shoes while your hands form a cup to drink from. Sucking hardened water over sensitive teeth, we slipped on our thick leather gloves and slithered back into the fields, between the leaves that clung together as a breathing green fortress.

Last modified 6 September 2007