I wait outside for Ian to pick me up before the daylong MBSR retreat. I’m standing on the sidewalk, and I glance back down my little road. I stop a coyote in his tracks. For a moment, we are both still, just looking at each other. He’s so thin it hurts me, and he hasn’t groomed himself. He is starving to death, I think. My neighbor Joel is heading toward me with his two little dogs, so I turn around to warn him about the coyote on our road. When I look again, he is gone. He haunts me, though. Two months later, I can still picture him, his dear, unkempt, emaciated form. And the look in his eyes. He looked beyond exhausted. Despairing, I think, barely able to go on. Looking back, I imagine I even saw a flicker of hope in his eyes when I spoke to him. I’ve sent up prayer after prayer for him. I dream of buying dog food in case I see him again. Was he sick? Are all our coyotes starving now? How can I possibly begin to feed coyotes? (My neighbors would flip.) I wish there’d been time and quiet to just be with him that morning. I loved him in that first moment, but there was no time to cherish him, to know him even for a little while. May he be safe and free from harm. May he have all he needs to heal and thrive. May he live with ease and well being for as long as he wants to. May he die a quiet, easy death whenever he is ready.
Alfalfa shook her head as if she could shake out the demons with the raindrops in her hair. She’d been angry three times today already, and it wasn’t even afternoon. They were all stupid reasons, she thought, and now I can’t stop being grumpy. She was angry with herself. She thought she rooted out the worst of her self-hatred, decades of peeling that particular onion, layer after layer, until–she’d thought–there were only small pockets of it wedged in hidden places, sparked on rare occasions. Until now those remaining pockets felt like tiny eruptions, small squalls only, not the deadly storms that used to make her want to die. In recent days, though, these crazy short-fused bursts of anger were chased by strange backlashes of self-loathing, akin to what she weathered long ago and thought she’d left behind. Left behind like the cottage on the lake she and her father used to visit in the summers, her nose pressed up against the car window each time they had to leave, the cottage growing smaller and smaller as they drove away. She shook her head again, a softer gesture now, sadness deep inside her. She missed her father. Not his compulsive need for order, never that, but the kind of dance he did with life, the part of him that loved every inch of that lake and showed her why. He gave her her name one summer there all those years ago, and she let it stick, goofy as it was. She let people think it was some crazy hippie choice, some commune-loving naiveté. She didn’t say it was the magic whimsy of the man who showed her faces in weathered bits of wood, who made her fall in love with wet stones at the edge of the lake, the man who always let her feel like a person, who never treated her like a child.
[Editor’s note: timed writing, the prompt to include the words grumpy, dance, compulsive and raindrops.]
When I catch myself in the mirror this morning, I like the look of me in my favorite green cotton top and Mami’s old purple sweater. I have a bag of bird seed in each hand on my way out the door to feed them, and I smile at my reflection, unexpected joy rising. I went to sleep early last night, slept long hours with loud rain sounds coming through the open windows. For me, my heart’s ability to lift, maybe even her agility, seems linked to being rested, even to eating well. I am convinced much of being happy is tied to simple body chemistry. When I’m worn out from being too busy, from navigating grief or anger, from the stress of a new job, this kind of unlooked for joy doesn’t spring up in me in the same way, and I tend to miss it, that lightening, that natural lifting of the heart. I have two friends who are in the midst of weathering two huge losses, and I know they’re exhausted, would read it on their faces if they hadn’t told me. I want to be able to bundle them in blankets, sit them by a fire on this wonderful day of our much-needed rain, place warm mugs of my split pea soup in their cradled hands. I wish I could take over the demands of their day to day lives, let them move between the fire and their bed and back again, let them do nothing but sleep and dream for a week, for two, for three. I know they haven’t stopped being grateful, feeling lucky even now, treasuring the richness of life. But I suspect their hearts aren’t agile right now, may be too bruised, too tired to lift very far. I want to tuck their blankets in around them, pour them hot tea, remind them it will take time. “That surprising joy will be back,” I whisper. They smile at me, silent, love in their eyes.
Two months after I moved in they broke ground on a small development where the open lot used to be, across the little road from my home. They bulldozed everything. They took the trees, the scrub brush, all the roosting places for the sparrows and the finches, all the homes and pathways of the rabbits and the coyotes. The roadrunners ran panicked back and forth for days. It broke my heart. Inside myself, I fought against it for the 18 months they were building. Later, I would stand at my window staring at the wall, the rooftops, the missing mountains, still all churned up inside. Today I don’t get angry when I look at it, but I still see what it used to be, like the spirit of that undeveloped land, that bit of wildness in the middle of town, still lies just beneath the surface like a dream.
[Editor’s note: This was written in response to a prompt from The Daily Poet, by Agodon and Silano, Two Sylvias Press.]
In another August dream after I come home from the mountains, after the recurring dreams of moving on the river, I dream of swallowing stones. Not in an ordinary way, not like eating dirt, not gravel. Nothing hard on the teeth, the throat, the belly. But smooth round river rocks are inside me. I sit cross legged, upright, my spine erect, like sitting meditation. The rocks move in me, slow, silent travels up and down my spine. Then I am laughing, and on the uptake of breath I know I am being fed, inhaling goodness, being healed.
In the weeks after I return home from my time in the eastern Sierras, I dream again and again of water. I steer a wooden boat with a long pole on a small river. I stand in the prow, high above the water. It’s the same boat I imagined the heroine of my fantasy novel navigating on the Petaluma River. I don’t know if the boat exists in this world or not, but it feels real. I don’t know what river I’m on, but I move along its quiet edges between the sandy shore and small islands, clumps of sand and boulders, a small tree. I have a sense these clusters of things, this water, this earth, are practicing a ritual, like candles or clay or trees or moving water, that I am joining them somehow, that I am partaking in these river rituals, too. Each time I wake up, I am left with only the feeling of the dream. But I know these dreams are somehow healing me.
I do my qi gong in Clive’s back yard. I face east, the direction of the liver in traditional Chinese medicine. I stand before the climbing vines and blackberries, the wonderful vegetable garden, old growth, parts untamed, calls to me. I lean forward from my waist, head hanging, arms loose to the ground. I like the looks of me, this upside down view, my feet’s tan lines darker than ever from all my walking this week, the blues and thin-lined purples of my plaid pants, my stones dangling from my throat, the aqua aura bluer today against the blue of my thin shirt, the red yarn still tied to my left wrist, and that little rush of recognition, of familiarity, of fondness for myself. This is me.