Years ago my friend Richard talked about how we can shine a light on any aspect of ourselves, bringing our attention to it, and that’s all we need to do for it to transform. (I’m sorry. I don’t know if this should be attributed to a particular teacher.) I remember telling him you would have to have a lot of kindness for yourself in order for that to work. I knew it wasn’t working like that for me. The other day I was sitting in my corner of the back yard beneath the lime green umbrella, thinking about my anger, my reactivity, my yelling. I was deep in my thoughts, the pool, the pots of succulents, the bees, even the lizards all receding. I am always paying attention to some degree when I’m acting out, I thought. But my observer isn’t curious or kind. My behavior isn’t okay with her. I think if I want to be able to rein myself in more quickly and more often, I need to develop a better relationship with my observer, fund more kindness, foster more genuine interest in my goings on. I can almost hear her. Oh, look, she whispers, fascinated, look what you’re doing now. Isn’t that interesting. Oh, see how it isn’t working for you? Let’s see what we can do, she says. I can dream up a version of me laughing at myself, brimming with self-acceptance. I can almost touch her. But I am too far away. Still, the sense of possibility is heartening. I look up at the ridge, my little bit of mountain here, scan the edges for a sitting hawk. I don’t see one today. But hope sits inside me. Maybe if my observer can be kinder, she can talk me around.
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.
In the mid-90s I wanted to have a baby. My body really wanted to be pregnant. I lived on a hill outside Sebastopol in northern California, and I would walk up and down Tilton Road, watch the red-shouldered hawks soar in the canyon between my hill and the next. I remember climbing the hill one morning on my way home, nearing the row of mailboxes for our dirt side road. I was all filled up on the day, the hill, the hawks, my strong body climbing. I remember feeling that exhilaration, that joy, and noticing that longing for a child nestled beside it. It’s the first time I remember understanding how we can hold more than one big thing at a time. Today it’s mostly anger and fear. I try to hold them with kindness, but the anger is harder. And underneath it all is a deep sadness that permeates everything. It lifts here and there like this morning beneath the liquid ambers, one of those moments when everything intersects. I go to turn the sprinkler off, and a mockingbird begins to sing nearby. I look for him in the leafing branches of the liquid amber one tree over. And looking up, I see a lizard coming down the tree whose roots I’m standing on to reach the sprinkler so I don’t get my slippers wet. He stops to check me out, and that is the moment when it all coalesces. I greet the lizard and hear the mockingbird’s song and see the morning sun between the new leaves of the liquid ambers and taste the wet earth and feel my toes grip the tree roots beneath my slippers. Joy comes with this sense of divine intersection. And sadness still tucked up beside it, companion for the long haul.
I have two paper bags and a USPS bin of mail sitting untouched in the spare room. Seven empty bags of yerba maté scattered across the big wooden table in my room. Eight long lists of things I need to do littering the floor, herb books, my scribbled up calendar folded open to April. But when I have a free hour I do not clean my room or sort my months-old mail. I do not spend hours on the phone lining up appointments or checking tasks off my lists. Instead when it’s quiet I read in the afternoon. In the morning I sit in the sun with a cup of hot yerba maté and let my mind drift. When I make effort beyond the basics or the unexpected, they are small moments, small things, planting cat grass seeds in the patch of dirt where the cherry tree used to be, watering the pots of succulents beside the pool. Three days ago, I cut a window in the big ball of ficus tree and hung the bird feeder in the hole. You can see the trunk, the branches, the feeder like a little house in a cavern of leaves. It feels like a real tree now, and birds are coming. House finch, white crowned sparrows, towhees. When I watch them I think the veil between me and the world might be thinning. Nothing is easy in me, but I think it might be easing.
close again and again
Dreams dust my edges
dialog with somewhere else
What a world I might know
if I could lasso it all
and bring it forward
onto the page
dig for messages
and buried treasure
I hand you a shiny relic
with a broken wing
and watch you
turn it over in your hands
in the late afternoon light.
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.
Two turkey vultures soar above the back yard
silent and slow, unhurried
The near full moon rises in the early dusk
as we walk, arms linked
Hot yerba maté, as if it is life I swallow
in big noisy gulps
Great horned owls call from the big pines
at my old elementary school
Even though I think I don’t deserve the gift
Yet they keep calling, again and again and again
For longer than I have ever heard an owl call
And I wonder if they are responding to my love
or if there is a secret message
in their muted voices
as late dusk turns to near dark.