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.
I still seem to be all over the place. I keep hoping I’ll regain my balance. Finding more time to sleep will help, I know. One morning I get up early for my walk, return home with time to sweep the courtyard, fill the feeders in the guayaba tree for my house finch. It’s the first time I haven’t been rushing to finish before my 8:30am work meeting, and when I carry out the big bag of seed, I feel joy come the way it used to. The next day I am anxious and short on the phone with a colleague, brittle and brusque the next day leading my “Sheltering in Place” writing session on Zoom. I resist how rigid I feel. “Some shelter you’re offering,” I mutter, mean to myself. I tell my story later on another weekly Zoom, my voice cracking. “I don’t want to be like this,” I say. Not very Buddhist, is it? All this resistance to what is. Today I yell at my mother. I make her cry. Later she’s angry at me when I call to apologize. “Well, you’re good at yelling,” she says. “Oh,” I say, hard voice in my brittle body. “Where do you think I learned it?” Silence. But I am still the monster who made her cry, though this time I let my own tears come, find my way out of this dark, stuck place. And later, too, I remember standing beside the creek bed yesterday in the shade beside a desert orchid tree. I remember how the hummingbird came to perch on a nearby branch of the tree, and I watched him preen. And then a raven glided overhead, low and close, and two mockingbirds spiraled past. One of them landed on the palm across the street and started to sing. I looked up just then and saw the waning crescent moon in the pale blue above the tallest branches, and it felt all of a piece, and me a part of it.
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.