Farmers’ Market by Mark Toby

Farmers' Market

Mark Toby, Farmer’s Market, tempera, 1941, 19 5/8 x 15 5/8, Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection

The air is a brown soup. The market smells of lettuce, spinach, tobacco, and brewed coffee. The odor of fish and ice spills down the hallway. The noise of people talking softly to each other, to their clusters of buddies rattles in the din of vegetable sellers naming the places where their onions and yams have come from: Walla Walla, Yakima, Skagit. I can’t hear what the people are saying to each other. No one smiles. A disoriented man in a raincoats and Nor’easter stands in front of Stall 12 waiting for someone to arrive from across town. He glances at me and says something I can’t hear. No one carries umbrellas because the brown murk is not damp in that way. The moisture collects on surfaces without any visible rain drops. The water drools from the canvas awnings. Mosses and ferns grow where they have not cleared the tarp. A root from tree pierces the fabric. Left untended a forest would sprout in the market and grow toward the sky. In the red murk the only thing that registers is the movement of silhouettes, the reflection of sodium lights on damp slickers, the silver of a white Quaker-style beard. If Seattle men didn’t grow ears, there would be no way to tell them from Seattle women. No one walks briskly in the market. Everyone shuffles from side-to-side, a bovine shuffle; now and then a child says baa baa baa, or makes a barnyard sound. Only this place is part of the city rather than the farm. There are the remains of farm life in the market for sale. But in the market you can tell the truck farms in Auburn exist because of the city. The fishing boats leave their haul even in the 1940s on the docks of Portage Bay, and then trucks filled with ice bring the fish to the market. The city eats the country a root, a leaf, a fish at a time.

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