I listen to my white-crowned sparrows singing for a long time. And I let some of the tension seep out of me. I remember I learned how to stay in bed here in the mornings because of my much-loved boy cat when he was dying, and I made small beds for him beside me on this bed, complete with heating pads that cold December. I think about his gift to me (best view of all) and about all I have weighing on me now. I think of my closest friends and all they have undergone, all they are holding now. I think about the people in Ukraine and all they carry. I think about how we all hold all these hard things and all this love and even joy in the midst of it all. I cry with the bigness of it all, good, clean tears, the white-crowned sparrows singing for me on the cinderblock wall across my little road this morning, all this tenderness for what dear creatures we all are, with our fleeting lives in this always changing worlds
I can hear the trill of a bird, a familiar, much-loved sound, but if I once knew who was making it, I have forgotten. My mother gets up from her computer game to wrap the fuzzy orange tube scarf around her cat, protection from the sliding glass door I’ve opened ten inches, desperate for “real” air and a connection to the earth. “It’s okay,” she says to Trie. “It’s okay.” Her voice is kind of sing-song, but it doesn’t bother me today. My mother goes back to her game, and I think how it’s likely just this reassurance she is wanting to hear, too. The familiar bird trill is further away now, maybe two yards over, and I hear a house finch singing next door. Yes, I think. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.
Now that I am giving
my mother’s cat
I look for
the mornings when
her head feels sturdy
underneath my hand
or like yesterday
when she trotted off
down the hall—
I am peeing late in the day, staring out the open door without seeing, and then there are small cat paws visible below the red couch in the new room. I lean forward, see Trie eating her canned food. Her human is in bed doing a crossword puzzle from her big book. There is an absence of agitation after a steady spill of it throughout the day, an almost unrecognized relief. I bend my head down to see Trie more fully, her concentration, the always-pleasure of seeing her skinny, ailing self enjoying her food. I am happy just now in the midst of everything else, this unexpected moment, the cat and I linked somehow in the quiet, heartened by her furry self and her steady eating.
They are both still alive in the morning
one sprawled across the carpet in my room
in a patch of sun.
I know how lucky I am
because I was not loving
when I said good night
and if one of them had died
I’d have to carry that deep regret
all my days.
My body’s still thrumming from the vibration of driving, from the intensity of southern California freeways. I can hear the dishwasher in the kitchen, the crickets through the open sliding glass door. My mind is still sorting through the images of my home, ravaged by desert rats, kin to the ones I relocated with such tender care eight months ago and more. It’s like sifting through photos loose in a box, like flash cards. I can still smell their urine. My friend Maureen saved me from becoming a puddle on the floor, working her butt off, making big dents for me in the chaos. After she left I just kept going. Nothing is clean there now but the toilet and the cutting board in the kitchen. The top of the refrigerator is the only surface the rats did not mar. But the floor’s been swept, the bird feeders filled. I did not fully land much, though, and that is disappointing. I got to watch Maureen just feet away from me, marvel at her three-dimensionality outside of Zoom. But I wasn’t completely present. I remember a mourning dove on the roof of the trailer looking down into the courtyard with longing, getting up to scatter some seeds for him. A hummingbird came to hover behind me, but I was too wrapped up in whatever I was going to turn to greet him, a heartache now and a longing of my own. At one point in the late morning when I am sweeping I catch a sense of their rat glee, chasing each other around, leaping from couch to bookshelf, wild animals at Disneyland closed for the pandemic. “I love them, too,” I say to Maureen. “I know,” she says. And we turn back to our sweeping while the day grows hot around us.
The first time I was blasted open by wilderness was when I drove through the northern state of Baja California. The winding two-lane highway with no shoulder, no evidence of humankind anywhere except the road, only open undulating desert and scrub brush in every direction. No dwellings, no telephone poles, no water until the cats and I rounded a bend and saw the Sea of Cortez.