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 can’t count the number of white people I’ve heard say the murder of George Floyd woke them up to how bad things are for black people, for indigenous people, for all people of color. I’ve cringed, stayed silent. But I’ve wondered. How could you not know? At the same time, if I am fair, I think this monstrous act (that follows centuries of monstrous acts) struck at an especially vulnerable time. Maybe because we are all so off kilter from the pandemic this has reached deeper, feels more vivid. Maybe even those of us who scream white privilege, who have the luxury of turning away, of tuning out, haven’t been able to turn away from this. For me, it joins other griefs, wakes up overwhelm and powerlessness. And living in there, too, is a flicker I think might be hope. If you don’t know where to begin, you might start here. 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
I stand on the footbridge and watch the mother coyote in the creek bed below. She’s emaciated and mangy with an odd stub of a tail. She is almost unrecognizable as canine except for her snout. It hurts to look at her, breaks me even more to think of her trying to feed her pups. I stand there for a long time saying metta for her. I am wishing her cottontails. Safety, health, magic. When she disappears into the thick green brush, I head home. As I walk, I dream about bringing her a whole, raw chicken. Is that safe for coyotes? Just past the bridge, a mockingbird is singing in the wide palm beside the path. I am crying for the coyote, and then I am crying for this gift of the mockingbird’s song. I move to the street and into the shade to listen, pull down my mask, drink my hot spearmint tea. The narrow crowded leaves on the desert orchid tree seem sharp-edged today. There’s a kind of crisp clarity to everything. I look up to see the red blossoms on the tips of the ocotillo. I am all filled up by the wonder of it all, grateful to be standing here, returned to myself.
My grief surprises me. First, I am disappointed in the very act of voting for Elizabeth Warren because overnight they have decided she’s already lost. Later, I walk down the narrow hallway of my trailer home, my being pulled inward, heavy, weighed down by decades of elections behind me, only the rare win, 44 years of voting for people and causes I believe in and seeing them lose. I watch Elizabeth Warren announce her withdrawal, hear her voice break again and again, admire her ability to be poised and honest and vulnerable at the same time. I honor her grace and authenticity. I cry unexpected tears, the ones she fights back on camera. It comes to me that I am now more fond of her than ever. I am crying for her, for her monumental effort, grappling to accept this ending, as much as I am crying for my own loss, and for all the women like me who were so full of hope we might finally have a woman lead us. She’s not wrong. Her efforts moved things forward in a big way. And I love that those pinkie swears count, that disappointing all those little girls she met during the campaign is one of the things breaking her heart. The next day, the L.A. Times writes that surely those little girls will see a woman president elected here in their lifetime. It stops me. I do the math. They’re predicting within the next 60 or 70 years? Surely, you jest. How about before those little girls reach their teens? How about 2024? How about we elect a brave, bright, talented, experienced woman of color with grace and a big, big heart?
It’s a little windy out, and only 56 degrees in my trailer home, late morning. But I have my sliding glass door wide open anyway, inviting in the world. I’ve finished my chores, and I’m propped up in bed, cozy warm, watching my mountains and my bougainvillea, sipping hot spearmint tea. I’ve been sick, some lingering now in my throat, my chest, my ear. While I watch, two mockingbirds come. One lands on the edge of my neighbors’ carport. The other perches on the tip of a bougainvillea stem. I can’t tell if there’s a territory thing going on or a courting thing. Just then, while I’m enjoying these two mockingbirds and already dreaming one of them might make this their summer home for late-night singing, I hear loud unexpected song from the electric pole outside my window. It stops me, this crisp, clear burst of song, washes through me, dear, familiar, absent for a long time. This third mockingbird doesn’t sing long, but I can still hear him inside me as I write, sharp beloved memory, first song of the season.
6:10pm. I am resisting prepping for my class that begins tomorrow. I just don’t want to do the work. But of course I have to. It needs to be done by 8am tomorrow, and it will be. I just don’t want to do it now. So, I wash the dishes, rinse out the sink, wipe down the counters. I decide to let myself read a little first. I feel like dessert, I think. I find a forgotten Lara bar, Pecan Pie, in the door of the fridge. I take it back to bed with me, spearmint tea steeping on the table beside me. I eat the bar all at once, sucking the sweetness into me, this unexpected gift to myself tenderizing me. Halfway through the bar, I begin to cry. I’ve always thought I would do whatever it took to keep my loved ones safe, well, happy. Now I am coming to understand it can’t be quite so limitless, so no holds barred, that I may need to save something of myself for me. So I cry, and I chew, the sweetness of dates, the earthiness of pecans. I grieve for this inner ideal I’ve carried with me for decades, of what it means to love someone fully, a delusion, I think now, that would have left me husk only. Part of me is glad to think I may find my way to giving much but not everything, not viscera, not bone. To think I may have something left when things are done. Even so, the taste of dates and pecans still in my mouth, even sensing that this idea of giving everything was cloudy seeing, I grieve to feel the dream of it crumbling inside me, to feel it slip away.
Okay, this is kind of goofy. I want to offer a writing day on February 14th (and maybe the 15th and the 16th, too). But I’m not sure where it might be or if it might need to just be online.
I told you it was a bit goofy. But after our extraordinary experience at the Joshua Tree retreat in November, I had a dream telling me to do the next one on Valentine’s Day. I let myself get swept up in life, and I didn’t pursue this, but I still want to honor the dream even if it’s much belated.
So. Please save the date(s) if you’d like to do a nice long chunk of writing together (true stories, creative nonfiction prompts, lovely camaraderie, laughter).
Stay tuned. I will let you know if I find a space for us, or if this will be something we can do online together. Oh, and maybe let me know if you are interested. Not sure what we might be able to pull together at such short notice, but you never know. And it’s a holiday weekend, too!
Sending good wishes to each of you for this and for 2020!