To be a healthcare worker, or any first responder, unimaginable today. Honor to you, always. Postal workers, trash collectors, plumbers and tradesmen who come into our homes, day care workers, caregivers, veterinary staff and more, all plunged into the line of fire now—I am grateful to you all. And my own heroes since we began to shelter in place, the people at my Ralph’s, at my mother’s Trader Joe’s, from the beginning, so impressive. How quick they were to rally, to organize our lines outside the store, to let in seniors and people with disabilities early. They developed systems for sanitizing our grocery carts. They tell us what is out of stock, what is being rationed. Every day they show up, put themselves at risk so we can buy lentil soup, wild bird seed, garlic, beets. And they do it all with such good cheer in the midst of the chaos. The people at my own Ralph’s have long been some of my favorite humans, people I rely on for their kindness, for open-hearted connection, people who matter to me a great deal. But now they all amaze me. Genaro. Mark. Lee. Anita. Nathan. And all the rest of you whose names I never mastered. You awe me, so gallant your efforts. You bring me to tears. Hats off to each of you, palms across my chest. Thank you. Stay well.
Young corn plants growing, bright green shoots unfolding into leaves that bend and curve, little beings in the moist dirt. I don’t think I’ve ever met a happier plant than corn plants. But maybe in part it is the way they grow together that makes this true, that they sprout up in kinship with the other corn plants around them. Maybe they are happy because they are in community. Today they make me think of the brown pelicans gathered on the broad, sandy beach outside Todos Santos in Baja California Sur. They stood upright, too, in clusters, alert, their kind eyes watching me, old souls. Maybe corn folk are old souls, too.
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?
Two weeks ago I did a little ritual just before I left town. I asked for help with my writing, with my resistance to writing. I asked to have fun, to be pulled toward my writing instead of away. It was quick but heartfelt. Now I am in my second week of a 4-week writing class about voices, a teacherless class from Creative Nonfiction. And I’m getting a big kick out of it. The assignment I talked about in yesterday’s poem is from that class. I’ve been doing all the work, eager to complete the lessons, the exercises, to play, to practice. (Often in the past when I signed up for a self-paced class like this I ended up not carving out the time to do the work. But this time it’s different.) Reading Gertrude Stein’s letters for the assignment was entrancing, falling into her familiar cadence, so easy, feeling her voice like an old friend, one I knew well decades ago, the way that carries over, even if you visit seldom in all the years between. After, I became engrossed in the writing. I began at dusk, and then it was 8:30 when I surfaced. Such a sweetness, that sense of getting lost in the writing even when each moment feels so engaging, carried away by the act but very much present. A delicious paradox, a big gift. Thank you. Thank you.
The assignment, to imitate a voice
so I read her letters to a friend
letter after letter
as dusk deepens
and white-crowned sparrows
chatter in the courtyard
and go silent
I write my little piece
into the dark
so easy to fall into her voice
familiar and dear to me
for forty-three years.
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.
Today I spend the day with Sylvia Boorstein, and her guests, from afar, livestreamed from Spirit Rock. Beforehand, I debate the all-day commitment on this day, but being in her presence even virtually and getting to listen to her wonderful stories feels like such a reassuring way to begin the year. After, I feel vulnerable. I am achey and tender and sad. I am all opened up. I feel a kind of longing, I think. Longing to be able to be part of something like this always? Partaking in her big warm love and acceptance? More connected to people like this, this deep kindheartedness? Always with Sylvia my old voices arise, want to lament I didn’t find her years ago when I could have worked with her for decades. Maybe, though, another voice says, you wouldn’t have felt this way about her then. Maybe you wouldn’t have been ready, or maybe she needed time to grow into who she is today. In the end, I settle back into gratitude for the day, for the gift of her. But in me, too, is secret hope to get to spend more time with her, maybe even years of it.