I’m just getting up, sitting up in the middle of my bed. There’s a small bird perched on the top of the wooden fence outside my sliding glass door. His back is to me, and his stance looks awkward, as if he is a bit off kilter. It looks like there’s something in his mouth. He repositions his feet on the rough wood, turns himself around. I see he is a house sparrow, a big grey and white mourning dove feather held in his beak with a firm grip. It’s so surprising I almost laugh out loud. He looks like that notecard I bought online from Pomegranate, the one I love so much I bought a second box, a colorful illustration of a bird with a feather as big as he is. I’ve never seen a bird carrying such a big feather, not in real life. I sit here grinning at him. He fidgets a little more, repositioning his feet again on the fence. Then he flies off across the courtyard and disappears with his treasure.
The heater shuts off
and the quiet dark world
wraps around me.
Finally after a frenzied day
and an evening nap
I accomplish something
concrete for my colleagues.
for a late-night snack
a dried persimmon
and the good book
waiting for me
beside my bed.
The desert is funny, you know, the way it is summer in late winter, not desert summer thank goodness but ordinary summer like in normal places, so we can leave the doors open and feel the warm air in the early dark and really what can be better than warm nights, completely delightful, not hot nights of course, not like summer nights here which are dreadful, awful, so sometimes even on these silky nights in late winter it is a bit troubling really, thinking of the summer nights when it can be 111 degrees at 10:30 at night and so then it can be hard to truly relish these early warm nights because I just want it to be cool as long as it can be knowing what is coming and staying and living here those six brutal months of summer.
[This is a bit of the piece I wrote for my class. I’m imitating Gertrude Stein from a selection of her letters in The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thorton Wilder.]
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.
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.
Friday Feb. 14th (and the 15th and 16th?)
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!