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.
I ride my orange bike on the creek path, the world quick glimpses. Five ravens in the middle of the street eating roadkill. A strip of water beside the curb on the other side, sprinkler runoff. They slow hop and waddle between the two, easy together. I grin at this offer of adjacent food and drink, this perfect impromptu dining. When I am past, I see one lone raven sitting in the shade beside the path watching them. And then they are all behind me, and I ride toward the San Jacintos. I think about going back to move the dead animal off the road and onto the sand beside the path to keep the scavengers safe from speeding cars. But I decide the car that hit the squirrel or rabbit has adhered it to the asphalt, so it’s perfect for pecking out morsels, and if I moved it, it would be loose and flap around when they tried to eat and be harder to share. That settles it for me. I don’t have to debate further, consider every angle, wonder if I might cause a fuss moving it, get a raven hit by a car, cause harm trying to help. But sometimes it feels impossible to know, and choosing is agony. Later, on my ride home, one raven stands in the center of the street. The water has dried up, as if it was never there. The other ravens sit quiet and still beside the path in that same spot of shade beneath the two short palms and the desert orchid tree, each strong, curved beak open wide in the late morning heat.
These days I can still become unglued in an instant, leap from grateful and open, watching a roadrunner beside the creek path, to cursing people quietly behind my mask. In our humid days, our brutal heat, my sweat is salty on my lips, on the brush of the back of my hand. I move from minutia, from frustration with the online Ralph’s order, the jarring conversation about hearing aids—I move from this weighted trivia into outerspace, long moments lying on my back in chavasana, tears pooling in my ears, my body both wedded to the earth and light, as if I might float off, join the crescent moon in the daylight sky, healing in the depths of me in tiny, magic, unseen moments.
[Editor’s note: This piece came from three drawn words in our spontaneous writing session today: salty, outerspace, unglued.]
I cup my mask in my open palm as I turn the corner, ready to cover my face if anyone is nearby. The mask is red with pale orange petals, some in flower clusters, some scattered like starbursts. I am fond of this mask because Candace’s mother made it and because I am fond of Candace. (Her mother sews them in Fresno, and they sell them at the health food store where Candace works.) I turn now onto my small road, no one in sight. I’m coming home from my walk by the creek bed. My hip was troubling me, so this is my first walk in a week, and I am coming home nourished by the quiet, the roadrunners, the rabbits, the savoring of solitude in the company of that long span of wildness. I keep walking. I become aware of a vibration in the center of my hand. I look down, and the knot on the ear loop is bouncing up and down with my steps. I keep walking, my palm gentle, tucked close to my ribs, as if I cradle a beating heart in my hand.
After my yoga
I lie down for chavasana
and there is a big red ant
beside my mat
where my arms want to lie.
He is hunched over
I present him
with a dry bougainvillea blossom
and he seems happy
as if it’s a new toy,
rocking the blossom
back and forth
with his weight.
Then he perches
on the top
and holds still
and all of a sudden
I am moved
by his unexpected company
my small companion