How can I describe it? We have a short stretch of hot days. It tops out at 122 degrees. One afternoon I hear birdsong. I follow it to the bathroom, peek around the green towel hanging on the shower rod. There is an old, weathered female house finch singing on the open louvers in the little window above the bathtub. I am charmed but baffled until I realize she is coming for the air, both the swamp cooler and the A/C on, all the windows wide open because I can’t live with them closed. I am used to the hummingbirds coming to rest on the one set of louvers without a screen, but this is new. The next day there are four house finch in the bathroom window. One is eating sunflower seeds. Later, I am working on my laptop in the living room, and I hear them on the louvers not two feet from where I sit typing. They are hidden behind the purple curtains, maybe seven of them. How do I say what it’s like to have them so near? They are almost inside my home, a magical visitation, but practical and smart of them, too. It is a dearness to know they are so close to me on the couch, their songs, chirps, their tender small selves, all feathers and air, all sweetness and light, like tiny angels calling, like crossings from another world, like family. It is like nothing I’ve ever known before. When they leave, I wonder if they were a dream.
It is early June, and I stand in my Palm Springs courtyard breathing in the sight of my Mexican petunia. Each time I see it I think of you, my dear friends, who gave it to me. On this day it is even more exquisite than usual, and I stand counting every delicate purple blossom. I count because there are so many, and because I have a funny little thing about numbers, a lifelong love affair, really. On this day there are 77, magic number, filled with possibility. I laugh at myself while I count because I know it is impossible, of course, to know I am counting each one, or not counting one twice, and because after I am done I see one unopened blossom I didn’t count (the rest were all open), but I don’t change my tally. (Do unopened blossoms count?) I stand in the courtyard breathing in these short-lived blooms. I miss the two of you, gone north for the summer like the my white crowned sparrows, and facing challenges of your own. Then all at once I know your love for me is alive here in all these blossoms. Today, now past the middle of June, I am 120 miles away. I sit in the back yard here beneath the yellow umbrella, beside tiny succulents with sweet magenta blooms. I miss you, and the Mexican petunia, too. I went home for an hour to refill bird feeders, get the mail, and she is still thriving in the messy courtyard. I’ve been gone for a week that feels like three months, taking care of my mom. She’s been sick, but is getting better little by little. Today I touch down to my bedrock for a moment, 120 miles away from my home, from my own flowers, 500 miles away from the two of you. I let that day in my courtyard arrive again in me, let your love for me in all those blooms fill me up, make me cry. The vital presence of your love bolsters me, over and over again.
I say the sky, the orange umbrella, deep autumn blue, bluest back as far as I can remember, the scalloped edges of the umbrella a work of art, a silkscreen printed across the clouds.
You say oh. No. It has been this blue all week. It began Monday. You must not have noticed. Today is Saturday. Six days in a row now of this striking blue, like the sky in postcards, Switzerland sky. Where have you been?
I say I have been right here, lying on my back every day but Thursday, doing my yoga, looking up at the sky. Today is different, deeper, more vivid. Yes, I say, it’s been beautiful all week. But today the sky, the umbrella, they are like the Mediterranean. Today they speak Greek.
You say oh. Yes. Maybe I forgot who I was talking to. It is impossible for you to be wrong, even in this.
I say yes. Maybe you forgot. Maybe you forgot who the artist is, who the lover of light, of color, of texture. You forgot why I might have seen this, why I might have noticed this difference, and you did not.
[Editor’s note: Although the umbrella and the deep blue sky are real, this was a spontaneous writing I did in my Meetup group based on a prompt from Two Sylvias Press for April’s poetry month. It feels like a real conversation to me, but it is an imaginary one.]
I fall asleep when the afternoon is yellow with daylight and wake in the gray world of early dusk. I let the thin salmon blanket fall away to the couch, the one my yoga teacher brought back from Mexico more than 20 years ago for those of us who ordered one, real cotton, beloved, perfect for a nap in the early desert spring with the swamp cooler on low. I check the thermostat and my sleep-muted mind decides the 69 degrees means it is almost seven o’clock. It is the end of my first day home again after being gone. So the sound of the traffic is familiar but strange, the trailer more silent than I remember, the courtyard still quiet and magic in the almost-dark while I type, the solar lights coming on one at a time. Here with me, too, are the great horned owls from yesterday at the preserve, the three young ones beside the adult high in the fan palm, alert and still, almost ghost-like in their big tree cavern. I savor the memory of them, savor the ending of the day. I’ll eat Jerusalem artichokes tonight with flax seed oil and salt, finish the Annie Dillard book I’ve been reading, maybe go to sleep early. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my Monday this week, and grading waits. I relish my solitude, and I miss the camaraderie. I can still hear Barney’s voice reading science questions from the little box of worn cards, still feel the easy warmth of the cabin, Corina beside me on the couch, Lila’s soft furry head against my leg, Angelika puttering in the kitchen. I can still feel my pleasure in being a part of the whole, in knowing I still remember how to join in, laughing.
Big waning daylight moon
Full heart greeting
my mother’s tree glistens in the window.
Mammals need three things when we’re young: warmth, touch, soothing vocalizations. I think of lullabies I can’t remember. (Were there lullabies?) I think of the funny nonsense sounds I used to make to my cat Boo, lots of made-up words with muted m and u sounds, my way of loving him out loud. I make those same sounds without thinking to the hummingbird when she alights in the guayaba tree ten inches from my face. I think she decides I’m safe because after listening to my noises she moves to her soft little nest I didn’t even know was there, three branches over. I string fuchsia ribbons to keep her safe with notes attached that read “Temporary closure—hummingbird.” Later, back inside my trailer, I hear odd little sounds coming through the bathroom window. I step into the bathtub, creep close. A female goldfinch is perched high in the guayaba making quiet scrijjery sounds I’ve never heard before. I think of the mammalian need for vocalizations. Maybe birds need them, too. Maybe the goldfinch is making these soft noises for the hummingbird eggs. I remember the pretend German songs I used to sing to myself for hours while I crouched on the walkway in front of our Tujunga house dreaming up little make-believe worlds amid the succulents. I feel a dearness for my young self and a rush of grateful pride that at age four she knew just how to soothe herself. (When did she forget?) A whir of wings brings me back. The hummingbird settles on the branch beside the goldfinch, facing her. They sit together like old friends, and then the hummingbird flies back to her nest. I am tired and tender, all opened up. I stand in the bathtub for a long time listening to the goldfinch song. I feel like I belong, all of us woven together by this lullaby: the goldfinch, the hummingbird, the two beings in her tiny eggs, and me.
In the midst of all my “bad behavior,” all my spewing of anger into the world, I begin to try to acknowledge my “victories,” even the small moments. It feels important to recognize and value the times when I am able to stop my “bad behavior” from escalating. And not just being able to stop myself from erupting but also from sitting stuck in my story about how I’m being wronged. (I can see progress especially on that front. I tend to notice more quickly and turn myself aside from my stories, not dwelling in them, not feeding them.) Last week at my mother’s, I realized I wasn’t as awful as I’ve been before. I had to laugh at myself for that—talk about setting the bar low!—but I figure it’s akin to Larry Yang’s descending intentions that end with, “If I’m not able to do no harm, may I do the least harm possible.” I did less harm this last time, and even though I know things like this aren’t linear, and I may do more harm again in the future, the fact that I did less harm on that one visit still counts. And I want to celebrate the still rare times when I get all the way clear, when I let go enough in the middle of a disagreement to really apologize, like the other day on the phone with my mother. “I’m sorry,” I say. And I sink into it and feel the true softening in me when I say the words, instead of just speaking them in a clean voice while I’m still holding on to it, still churning inside. When I was young, I knew letting go was the secret to everything. But learning how to let go is another story. I get embarrassed to be where I am with this after decades of trying. But I’m still trying. I’m not giving up. So that counts, too.