I am filling the tube feeder with nyger seed at my mother’s house in the early morning. I’m in the side yard off the kitchen. I’ve just made 22 little zipper snack bags of shaved beef to freeze for her cat. My pot of tea is steeping, and brown rice for my breakfast is simmering on the stove. I close the lid on the feeder and return it to its big green hook. When I look up, I see the two of them on the other side of the pool in the back yard. I hold still, watching them. They walk about on the cement, and then they step off the edge and slip into the pool. It feels surreal. It’s so completely out of the realm of the expected or the ordinary. There are two mallards swimming about in my mother’s pool as if it isn’t anything unusual, as if they do this kind of thing all the time. I get it in my head I’d like to be able to offer them a bite to eat along with their dip in the pool. I know bread is not good for them, so I go inside to Google what they eat. I find out they’re omnivores. Fruit is on the list. I head back out, thinking of peeling an orange for them, breaking it into sections, but they are gone. I feel like I blew it, like I should have stayed to watch them. I would have loved to see them fly away, or watch them swim some more, their silent skimming across the water so full of grace, touched with magic. But I hear a voice telling me I didn’t blow it. I wanted to do a kind thing. Wanting to feed them was an impulse for good. Later, I wonder what their visit might mean, certain it is an omen of some sort. I try to look it up, but there are no mallards in my book, no ducks at all. Days later, my mind keeps returning to them, the way they kept each other company, their quiet circles across the still surface of the pool.
A miss a call from a friend of mine wanting information about the “bad vet” I went to with Sable. He and his husband have an old dog who’s been ailing for a good while now. I am upset with myself for not knowing it was urgent when my cell phone rang during our writing group, for not knowing I needed to answer the phone right then. I’d left him a message just that morning. I assumed he was calling me back. It’s hours before I’m able to listen to his message. I try to reach him, but I worry I may be too late. All I can do is send the three of them metta, good wishes, prayers that whatever is happening might be the best it can be. I do this every day for a week. One night I dream we’re at a gathering of some kind, forty people in a big dark room with a high ceiling. I wonder later if it’s a wake or a vigil. I am kneeling on the floor, writing my metta wishes on the polished concrete. My arm moves the shiny marker in big wide strokes. I write long feet of metta for a dog I have not met, for the people who love him.
In November I am gone for three days. When I’m home again, I’m afraid my male hummingbird might not visit me after my absence. But he’s still here! I greet him, and I cry. Twice this morning he comes to my face. I close my eyes but don’t flinch, though the second time he startles me, and my heart does a funny flutter in my chest. Still, having him sit and visit on the back of the chair nearby fills me with a welling joy. I love him. I love these visits. I tell him he makes me feel like my cats made me feel, like I’m the luckiest woman in the world. Bar none. I sit beside him in my courtyard and feel the joy, the tenderness, well up and seep out of me, feel that ache and that fine seesaw line between our 10,000 joys and our 10,000 sorrows. For a moment, I wonder if there is something wrong with me, that I’m wired wrong, that maybe joy should be undiluted. Maybe that humbling awe, that sense of the hugeness of the gifts beyond deserving comes from some faulty circuitry in me. Then I think it is native to our human condition, to being embodied on this planet, to the fleeting nature of things. And then I wonder, how can we not feel unequal to the gifts bestowed, to the marvels of our world? How can we not feel humbled and grateful when we stand beside a mountain, watch a bird stretch her wings, take in the bougainvillea in full bloom? Or by the gift of morning companionship in the tiny form of a hummingbird? Thank you, little one. I’m so glad you’re still here, still making these visits. I’m glad I’m still here, too.
Two months after I moved in they broke ground on a small development where the open lot used to be, across the little road from my home. They bulldozed everything. They took the trees, the scrub brush, all the roosting places for the sparrows and the finches, all the homes and pathways of the rabbits and the coyotes. The roadrunners ran panicked back and forth for days. It broke my heart. Inside myself, I fought against it for the 18 months they were building. Later, I would stand at my window staring at the wall, the rooftops, the missing mountains, still all churned up inside. Today I don’t get angry when I look at it, but I still see what it used to be, like the spirit of that undeveloped land, that bit of wildness in the middle of town, still lies just beneath the surface like a dream.
[Editor’s note: This was written in response to a prompt from The Daily Poet, by Agodon and Silano, Two Sylvias Press.]
I dream of a pilgrimage of horses. I stand at a crossroads of dirt trails where I can see them walking en masse. It is night, but I see them crossing through intermittent moonlight. Their movement is steady, quiet. I’m surprised to see some of them are saddled and bridled. There are no humans with them, only the horses walking, four or five or six deep on the two converging trails. I feel their sense of purpose, of clear intention, though I am not certain I understand it. I stand where I can watch them, among other people. I think I am in a foreign land or in “enemy” territory because I am aware I may be shot and killed. I am afraid, but I know this is important. I want to stand with my palms together, like namaste, like the Buddhist bow. Instead, I link my fingers. I hold them against my solar plexus, like in prayer, and bear witness, homage, to their quiet passage.
I cross the street behind my home on my way to the dumpster with my little bird seed bag of trash (stapled shut) and to get yesterday’s mail. I pass a woman in the street crying. “I just found my dog online,” she says.
“Oh good,” I say. I think he was lost and now she’s found him. I think she is crying from relief, from gladness after the long and terrible scare.
“No,” she says. “He’s dead.”
“Oh, no,” I say. Without thinking I open my arms to her and she walks into them. How can you not be held at a time like this? The world is dropping out from underneath her. This is a dog who snuggled up to her every night, head on the pillow beside her.
“She didn’t move all night,” she tells me. How do you recover from the gaping loss of that kind of daily intimacy? Not quickly, I think. I urge her to be extra kind to herself. I warn her not everyone will understand how devastating this is. I think of Pilar when her horse died. It’s only a horse, people said. How could they? And then, more gently, a reminder for compassion: they must have never known the kind of love that comes to us like this.
She has tatoos. I don’t recognize her. Unfairly or not, I can’t help but wonder if she’s connected to the drug dealer’s home, an endless source of dismay in our little trailer park. But none of this matters in the moment. There is only this devastating, fresh grief and a desire to meet it somehow. There are only warm arms and eyes and one heart going out to the other. I remember how blessed I was the day I found out my father was dead and his next-door neighbors took me in while I waited for the coroner and then for the people from the cremation place. This doesn’t come close to what those women gave me through that long afternoon, to how tenderly I felt held by the universe in them that day 32 years ago. But I am glad I walked across her path. I hope she felt met, and maybe in those few minutes together just the tiniest bit less alone with the crashing of her new, terrible grief.
I’m walking home from a big day, sticking to the shade where I can. I passed out my first flyers for my retreat at the writers guild meeting, then went to Cost Plus to redeem my birthday coupon for my favorite tea lights and small hand painted Easter egg ornaments I couldn’t resist. I stop near a walkway for a condominium complex, startled by an immense Great Dane. His owner comes into view, and I’m relieved to see he’s attached to the leash. “Oh my,” I say with a laugh. “He surprised me.” The dog’s head comes almost to my shoulders. “He’s beautiful,” I say. I tell his leash wielder I’ve seen them before, and he remembers me from our old neighborhood. Maybe I should tell him about my writing retreat, I think. But I don’t say anything. We part and I continue up the street. I hear the sound of wings. I think, raven, and I look up but don’t see the bird. The wingbeats are long and loud, and then I see three ravens just ahead of me, flying low, clustered, talking now. I stop on the sidewalk. It feels like they’re telling me I shouldn’t leave, telling me I should’ve told Tim about my retreat. I look back to where he and the Great Dane disappeared, and he comes walking out again without the dog. I call out to him. “Are you a writer by any chance?” I ask. (It makes me grin as I write. What a line.) I retrace my steps, talk about the ravens. “So, I decided maybe I should tell you about my retreat after all.” We stand together in the shade of a tree I don’t recognize. He says he’s not a writer, but then it turns out he writes morning pages every day (a la Julia Cameron) and just finished teaching an artist’s way class. “Oh,” I say with a wave of my hand, undoing his earlier disclaimer, “you are a writer.” I give him a flyer, talk about the deeper meaning of the work for me. He seems taken by the whole thing. I like him. “I’ll call you either way,” he says. I walk home cheered. The day has given me a quiet hope about my retreat. The bags I’m carrying seem lighter. I keep grinning and shaking my head in wonder. I’m awed by the clear second chance the universe gave me. And I’m flabbergasted by those ravens. I can still hear the sound of their wings.