Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What Leaks

In my town, the gas stations are all full service -- a fact I confess I pretty much like. But I always wonder how the fumes effect the people who stand there all day. I asked the guy who helped me yesterday -- who often helps me -- if the fumes bother him. He said he wouldn't notice if they did. I asked if he ever gets dizzy standing there all day -- he said he wouldn't be surprised. He said when they take the tanks out the whole place smells like gas.

A few years ago, there was a gas leak up the hill from my house. I used to walk the dog around the corner every day, and every day I thought I was going a little crazy. Finally I saw a woman working in the yard, and asked her if she smelled gas. She asked me to call the gas company -- she said she had called 5 times but because it was on public property they weren't taking it very seriously.

Yesterday in Nigeria about 30 people died in a fire -- there was a pipeline spill and people were trying to scoop out their own fuel. The article from the AP says these types of accidents are common.

A few weeks ago my downstairs tenants came home from work and smelled gas. They tried to call me -- I was too deep in work to answer the phone. They called the gas company. It was around 8:00 at night -- and 17 degrees outside. The guy from the gas company came -- he said he could tell what the problem was -- that it wasn't dangerous -- that he was going to leave the gas on because he wasn't worried and it was so bloody cold -- and that he wasn't supposed to. By law, if you know there is a gas leak, you have to turn off the gas. I went to bed wondering if we were going to wake up.

He also said people don't die from gas inhalation. I suppose people die from asphyxiation -- and blowing up. I wondered if Sylvia Plath would have been interested in the distinction. A friend of mine in highschool -- his house blew up from a gas explosion. Twenty years later I still remember what he said the next week -- "I had this really killer [Greatful] Dead collection."

What ensued in my house on the morning after the gas leak was like something out of a bad TV show -- the short end is that after both my plumber and I talked to a total of 5 people from the gas company, I had threaten a little to get them to come back and fix the problem. They changed my meters too, which had been brand new, to cover up for the fact that they were coming twice about the same problem -- apparently they did a lot of work that I didn't pay for -- though I did pay a plumber $500 for doing nothing. They said it happens a lot on cold nights. No one wants to leave people without heat. No one wants to get anyone in trouble. No one was concerned about the house -- my children -- my killer poetry collection.

There are leaks. Leaks we know about and leaks we don't. Our methods of transport and containment are imperfect. Gas leaks, oil leaks, information leaks -- emotion.

We try to contain truth and poverty too -- we try to contain our lives. There are always seams. There are always imposing forces. The idea that what we can't contain can't hurt us -- or that somehow we are stronger than the elements we try to conquer...

nature spills out all the time.

“Although the wind ...”

by Izumi Shikibu

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani

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