This year was laced with the absence of my cats, sometimes glaring, sometimes subtle, more muted as the year progressed. I lit a candle yesterday for Boo, one year to the day. I only cried a little. I’ve quieted most of my if onlys, I think, most of my what ifs. I’ve returned to winter quarters again this year after Boo taught me its wonders when he was sick, and I abandoned our courtyard to stay with him inside. From the blankets in the mornings I watch the San Jacintos, warm tea cradled in my hands. Now in the early dusk, I have the sliding glass door open. The white crowned sparrows flit about near the bougainvillea. I can hear them peeping, hear the rattle of the dried blossoms while they hunt for seeds. Now and then exquisite bursts of song erupt. One lone mourning dove comes to the big tray feeder. The solar Christmas lights looped in the bougainvillea will come on any minute now. The waxing moon is not yet far enough west for me to see her, but when I glance up, I surprise Venus in the clerestory window. The two have been bright companions in the evening sky, heralds of the season. The more the light leaves the day, the happier my timid sparrows are, playing in the corner of the courtyard. I can hear the traffic one street over, the clink of dinner dishes next door. I linger until the sparrows seek their beds, until only the ridge of the mountains is visible against the darkening sky. The solar lights wink on like magic, a bright, wild tangle. May we each be blessed with quiet, glowing, untamed peace like this through all our days and nights.
You come to me in a dream and hand me an old shoe. I raise an eyebrow. You grin at me. What does this mean? Why have you brought me an old shoe? I don’t ask. There is something endearing in the gesture, I think, even though it baffles me. A favorite dog, maybe, bringing their most prized possession to their beloved human. Me. You love me, even after all these years. Even though you know me and all my ugliness. When you first hand me the shoe, I think about St. Nicholas Day. Do I fill the shoe for you with presents like my German mother did for me? But it’s too late, I think. St. Nicholas Day was more than a week ago. So what does this mean? Why have you brought me an old shoe? I hold it flat on both open palms and study it. It’s an old tennis shoe, dirty white, worn almost through at the toe. And then I know. This is the shoe you were wearing all those years ago on the day I asked you if you thought you could fall in love with me. You scuffed this shoe against the white linoleum like a kid. “Like that,” you said. I look up from the shoe, and you are still grinning at me. I grin back. You see on my face that I’ve figured it out. This old shoe is my anniversary present.
It rains off and on, steady and quiet in the night. When I prop myself up on my elbows to peer over the windowsill in the early morning, I see a swathe of pale orange across the southern sky. Half awake and planning to go back to sleep again, I look west and see a rainbow. I grab my lime green umbrella and my mini iPad and juggle them in the rain to take a picture, goofy and awkward, but it’s no use. The image doesn’t begin to capture the light in it, the magic. I make oatstraw and alfalfa tea and climb back under the covers, my feet cold from my foray. I sip my hot tea and watch the mountains, shrouded in mist. I listen to my birds. My thoughts drift to a colleague. My belly clenches, a messy swirl inside me at the memory, feeling not heard, dismissed, angry, hurt. I wake up to the moment and remember. “May I hold you with kindness,” I say out loud to the feelings. I missed this part of the vipassana practice until two weeks ago when I was listening to a recording of Sylvia Boorstein, and it just came into me. I wonder how I missed it. I see it, after, in my beginner’s book I am rereading, right there in the first pages. It is Boorstein’s phrase, too, that Ian invokes each time we begin sitting practice. “May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.” I’ve always loved it, but I didn’t make the connection until now. It has holding our feelings with kindness at the heart of it. Just like Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “Hello anger, my old friend.” But I didn’t get it until now, that direct turning toward our feelings each time they arise, welcoming them. I wonder if maybe I needed to foster enough self-kindness in more general terms before this practice of receiving uncomfortable feelings like old friends was even practical for me. I knew we needed to accept what comes, knew we needed to be kind to ourselves, but it didn’t click. What comes to me this morning is my colleague’s behavior is not a reflection of her regard for me. It’s only what she does, and I take it personally. I cry quick, sweet tears. I return to my big cup of golden tea resting on the covers in my lap, warm my hands against its sides. My toes are warm now, too. And my heart.
Ah, yes. Yeah. Let it roll. Let it flip flop you around, slap the ears, soft like fur. Let it. Let it, ah, yeah. Let it make you move, only a little, mostly inside. Your heart, yeah, tap tap tapping. Your belly, yeah, keeping to the beat, the dance, the yes you can, the look at me look at us grooving. Yes, you can you can we can together we can let it roll under our tongues in our thumbs around and between us and inside us moving back and forth joining us while it passes through passes between passes along. Ah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Let it roll. Let it dance and sing. Let it ring and zing zing zing. Let it bounce between us hearts beating to the rhythm no separate selves only this room full of warm souls wrapped up together in the music.
[Editor’s note: This is an unedited piece (except for three words in the last sentence) in response to yesterday’s poetry prompt from the Two Sylvias Press advent calendar. Here is the prompt: “Write a poem about a style of music (jazz, hip-hop, blues, country, reggae, opera, heavy metal, etc.) while imitating the music style in the wording and phrases of your poem.” I feel shy posting it. Maybe it is too silly. But I felt the music right from the first line, and it was good fun letting the poem come through me. I hope it might be a little bit fun to read, especially out loud.]
Did you think you’d be only a footnote for me when you were gone? It makes me sad all these years later, even though you didn’t choose me, even when the details of your face, your head, your ears begin to dim. But maybe we both believed the other could only love us a fraction of how much we loved them. Heartbreaking at first thought, neither of us believing we were worthy of that much love. But maybe instead what it points to is the enormity of the love we felt. If it was so huge, so surprising, even unfathomable how much I loved you or how much you loved me, then maybe it makes sense. Because even a fraction of that love would be immense. And ours was never a typical relationship, at any rate. We were never a couple. We didn’t celebrate our romance. We weren’t the kind to name an asteroid after ourselves or write I love you across the sky. But if I could go back now and name an asteroid for you, I’d do it. I’d want you to know you could never be a footnote. I didn’t think for one second you were a saint, though I know you thought I didn’t really see you with all your human flaws and ugliness. (Later, I think you knew I did, knew I saw you and still loved you.) But I would gladly name an asteroid for you, so you’d know where you fell on the wheel of my life. I’d spend hours poring over the sky chart to choose the best one, maybe somewhere in the top left corner. I’d make this grand-ish gesture so you’d know I never felt anything close to what I felt with you, drifting at the edge of sleep, warm skin to warm skin, the place it took me, that deep peace. So you would know I still think about you in odd moments, like Sunday mornings when I linger over the newspaper and wonder what it would be like to do that with you, to decide together what our next move would be. Pancakes or a nap? I’d gladly name an asteroid for you so you could know you are not a footnote. You are a bonfire.
[Editor’s note: This was written per the Day 4 prompt in the Two Sylvia’s Press advent calendar. “Write a poem in which you name an asteroid for someone you know. Use several or all of the following words: chart, fraction, saint, skin, bonfire, wheel, breakfast, dim, footnote.”]
I like to play with my titles here. Song titles, famous expressions. In blogging it feels like we have more license to amuse ourselves. Here I am stealing the title of Anne Lamott’s book about writing. I saw it on my shelf just the other day. It seems to fit what I want to try to write about tonight, the bit by bit approach. One day when I was in my third year of teaching English I knew I needed to begin writing for myself again. I was building an online class on the fly, in addition to my other classes, and every Sunday I stayed up all night to get the next week’s materials in place for my students by Monday morning. I had no time. But I knew I didn’t want to get to the end of my life saying I’d always wanted to be a writer. So I decided to write eleven minutes a day. I sat on my stone porch in Hopland every morning and filled a page in my composition book. I don’t remember how it happened, but characters emerged. I began writing a novel. I don’t know if it was beginner’s luck or some quirk of timing or state of mind, or maybe because the characters were so crisp and so alive for me then, but I would just sit down and “enter in” to the story every day for those eleven minutes. I thought that’s how it worked, thought I would always be able to immerse myself in that way. But today I feel light years away from that, my imagination rusty, my hand creaky, my mind less agile, less willing or able to stretch, take leaps. So, yesterday I began a commitment to address a new writing prompt from Two Sylvias Press every day in December. I’ve done two now, and like my assignments for my recent MOOC, they are nothing to write home about. But I’m hoping I can quiet my critic, just keep practicing this act of letting go that used to come to me unbidden. It’s a tightrope act, finding my balance between reaching for this hope, writing with this goal in mind, and not going rigid with it. I think to soften I may return to reading Natalie Goldberg. Or maybe I’ll read Anne Lamott’s book again. In her story, when she has a big report to write for school, her father tells her to just take it “bird by bird.” So, I’m going to take this prompt by prompt, and wish for but not insist on limbering up in the process, pray for magic but not try to hold it in my fist. And in the meantime, the birds keep showing up, too, signposts still along my way. But that is a story for another day.