I pack my groceries on my bike. The four heads of Romaine fit neatly into the remaining gap in the basket, their leaves upright and waving as I pull away. I ride behind Ralph’s, the air almost blue-ish, only a hint of the smell of smoke. I coast, rounding the curve, and I hear my first mockingbird of fall. I go still inside, listening with all of me, this marker of the turning of our desert world. Earlier in the day things are easier sometimes, maybe not the joy that used to come, not the lifting of the heart again and again, for the ridge of the mountains against the sky, the lizard I watch for and protect when I open the door to the shed who looks down on me with his clear, tiny eyes from the ledge, the hummingbird who like to sit in the open louver. And not the easy lifting of my heart for no reason at all. But lighter, still, at the beginning of the day.
I rest my palm against my belly and take a deep breath. I am tired of the smog but grateful to my lungs and glad I am relaxed enough to feel like I can fill them. I have always felt like I am in some smaller section of humanity, on the edge, maybe, living on the fringe, but in moments like this I am in the center of it all.
[Editor’s note: Another snippet from our writing group, one of our “Two Words, Two Minutes.” The words were “fringe” and “belly.”]
Pucker up and kiss me. Delight me. I laugh at myself in the mirror. No demon on my shoulder today telling me what is wrong with me, why I don’t fit. Only the better angels who wonder if maybe I have just found myself in the wrong places with people who are so poised I feel less than, alien. I am so not poised, I think, laughing again at my reflection, loving this familiar face I see. “You have other strengths,” the not-demon whispers in my ear, and my face softens. Yes, I think. Yes. I have other strengths.
[Another piece from our spontaneous writing group. The words drawn for us to use were: alien, demon and pucker.]
The noxious air from the fires takes its toll. I am so looking forward to the possibility of our desert having both clean air and cooler temperatures, to be able to walk fast, take big gulps of air, pleasure in full lungs. I can’t wait for rain to return to us, wash the leaves of the desert orchid trees, fill the creek bed, lick our wounds clean. I can hear it now, hard rain on my umbrella, hundreds of frogs singing, mockingbirds alive again, the cacophony a happy jazz, slap of shoes on pavement, deep breaths of clean, wet air. Like marmalade on gingerbread, like the scent of garlic cooking in butter, like nothing can compare to being able to move in our outdoor world with ease. Oh, and no virus, too, while I am dreaming up our future, no wet masks in this rain, only cool air on warm, wet lips, fogged up glasses, singing myself now as I swing my hips, lengthen my stride, move boldly beyond where life has let me go in recent times, a big grin on my face.
[This piece came from our spontaneous writing session on September 14th. The words pulled from the magic pouch were: marmalade, lick, noxious, gingerbread, jazz.)
The poet is the priest of the invisible, the one who paints pictures of the way the air holds still or the way it moves away from the woman in the red dress, walking home from the bus stop beneath the row of old oak trees. The one who orchestrates the sacrament of placing words on empty paper, lets life move through the pen, leap across streams or fly like salmon up their ladders. The priestess who tells us stories about the heart of humankind, the whisper of doubt, the musty scent of secrets uncovered, given over to the day. It is not a small or unimportant task, this working with words, this waving of incense, these footsteps placed one after the other, ink across the page.
[Editor’s note: This is a piece from our spontaneous writing group on August 17th. The prompt was this quote by Wallace Stevens from The Daily Poet book (Two Sylvias Press): “The poet is the priest of the invisible.”]
I ride my bike to Ralph’s to buy ice every day now while I wait for my new refrigerator to be delivered. I approach from the back, ride in the mornings beside the long, tall expanse of windowless cinderblock in the huge swathe of uninterrupted shade it provides. I tend to be alone there, just me and my bike, Carrot Girl, and a raven or two sitting in the desert heat with their mouths open on the top of the facing wall. When I pass by I smell mint.
Sometimes I remember to “look” for it, take big breaths of air in through my nose. Other times I forget, and it takes me by surprise, the scent permeating my mask. There are trees along the wall edging the property there, but no mint that I can find. One day I ride along the parking lot of the apartment buildings on the other side of the wall, hunting for mint there. I still wonder if someone might have a dozen terra cotta pots bursting with mint on their balcony.
I am having trouble navigating these times. But I haven’t stopped being grateful. Today, I pack two bags of ice, kombucha, lasagna, sunflower seeds on my bike. When I round the corner at the back of the building, the smell of mint comes to me. It is strong today, and I coast along in the shade, grinning, glad for the gift of it, for this small, unexplained mystery of life.
I am not protesting in the streets because of the pandemic, but I am holding the hope in these acts close. But I’ve been troubled by the angry chanting. Not that people don’t have cause to be angry. Centuries of reasons for rage. Still, I am disturbed by the tenor of things, by what feels like a crossing over, moving away from nonviolent resistance. Wait, I want to say. This is not what Gandhi would want. Not what Martin Luther King would want. This is not what John Lewis tried for in his long, dedicated years of service. (If we keep going in this angry direction, will they all be rolling over in their graves?) I keep thinking we should be singing instead. I lie on my back in the courtyard after chavasana making up lyrics in my head to the melody of “Give Peace a Chance.” Black lives matter, I breathe. Brown lives matter. Queer lives matter. Women’s lives, too. “All we are saying,” I sing under my breath. Now and then I smell smoke from the brush fire near Banning, send up small prayers for all the beings there. The mourning doves glance my way, this strange beast beside them, but they don’t take wing.