I move the broom across the courtyard. The sun pokes holes in the back of my arms. Papery blossoms, sunflower seed shells, tiny, downy feathers collect at my feet. After, the sun bores into my calves when I bow forward in yoga. This sun is not the sun I grew up with.
As if they read my tweet yesterday, my white-crowned sparrows celebrate this evening, give me hope. They sing from the bougainvillea, loud for the first time, clear, bright. The hedge across our small road answers. Then more singing in my courtyard, late dusk wonder.
I wake to cat screams in the courtyard. I clap and yell, still half asleep, kneejerk. The cat fight stops, low growls outside my sliding glass door. I go outside to break them up, a huge gray cat I don’t know, long hair all fluffed from the fight, his backside disappearing over the wooden gate. My neighbor’s cat, who I love, escapes behind the shed. I talk to her through the gaps between the wooden fence. She sits cleaning herself on the hood of her fathers’ car, all twitchy from the fight. I go back to bed, take her shock with me, sadness welling. I ache for both cats. I hurt for the gray, hope he isn’t feral, isn’t lonely. And then I cry for my own two little ones, four years dead. Later I sweep the courtyard. I hear a kestral calling, looping about a nearby palm. I can’t tell if something has disturbed her, or if she’s just having fun. She widens her arc and flies over the edge of my yard. I stand still, holding the broom before me, watching. And then I see the waning moon is watching, too, big half moon still bright in the morning sky. It’s one of those moments when everything feels all of a piece. I stand there until the kestrel flies away, and it is just the moon and me, and some subliminal sense of all of us right now. The sparrows across the road and the hedges they roost in. The fan palms jutting into the blue in all directions. The mountains and their close, steady, silent presence. After, I cut a dozen branches from my laden tecoma. I apologize to the bush, to the bees. I sweep my part of the little road, a big pile of loose tecoma and bougainvillea blooms, some dried and crinkly and some still soft and fresh, all those shades of yellow and magenta, from pale to vivid. I scoop them up, and it feels wrong to throw them away, this rich and layered art. When I go back inside, I leave the gray trashcan tucked near the tecoma on the street, the cut branches of still-fresh blooms sticking up and out, a big bouquet for the bees.
I walk back down my gravel driveway after taking out the trash. I see a lone guayaba on the ground, bend to pick it up, turn it over. It’s beautiful, ripe and unmarred, untouched by bird or desert rat. The very last one, I suspect. I’d thought the two I ate three days ago would be the end of them. I stand cradling the small perfect fruit in my palm, this sweet surprise. I thank my guayaba tree, kiss a patch of smooth dark trunk between the lovely peeling bark skin. I feel lucky and grateful. Then I move, gentle, through the big palm fronds that brush my trailer, and I feel my sadness. Is it because of my family? Maybe. Maybe it is that. And maybe it is touched by autumn, too, the changing light, the ending in this, the movement toward the new. I love the changing of the seasons, the anticipation in that coming to be. But it’s a time of letting go, too. When I was young I always felt a kind of longing in the fall. I called it “autumn aches.” Maybe what I feel today is that. And maybe I feel the earth’s sorrow, as well. I open my wooden gate, careful of the guayaba I am holding. The Mexican petunias are a wild splash of purple in the center of the courtyard, a volunteer sunflower, big new bloom, beside them. I stop inside the gate, press the guayaba to my lips, breathe the scent of it. The sparrows lift back into the bougainvillea, soft movement, brushstroke on paper. The sadness, I tuck away. I’ll carry it with me, let it live, quiet, just beneath this joy.
Sweep. Sweep the courtyard. Yell at the big red ants. They are everywhere, traveling again and again into the path of my broom. The mess from the birds, black oil sunflower seed shells, kernel-less now. Bird shit, too, accumulates until the next good rain. Love the birds, I tell myself, accept the mess. But sometimes I yell. “Too many,” I call to the sky after them, when 40 mourning doves take wing, startled. Their wingbeats fan more mess onto the cement, and the ants roam, searching for treasure. I yell at them, too, some days. But other days I just move from spot to spot with the broom, avoiding their pathways. When I’m able to do this, to move again and again in order to sweep an ant-free space, letting go of wanting an unencumbered trajectory and my desire to finish, I can circle back again, and it just works, easy. Today, the ants are fewer, slower, maybe because last night was cooler, our first real touch of desert autumn. Today, I feel tender toward each one. I circle, calm. I even wait more than once toward the end for one ant and then another to move away, patient. When I finish, I’m struck by the beauty of this messy pile. Today, a handful of bright yellow tecoma blossoms amid the shell casings, the feathers, the papery dried bougainvillea blooms, the mound of fine, dark desert dust. And one lone purple Mexican petunia blossom still stuck to the bristles of the broom.
I set two small pots of water on the stove to boil for tea, so I can put them in the fridge tonight before I go to bed, tending to tomorrow. I crank closed the back louvered windows, turn the swamp cooler down to low for the night, ordinary tasks. I try the door, surprised to find it unlocked. I walk out into the warm dark, no moon, but there are stars and crickets. I stand in the small, open courtyard for a long time, then linger on my way back in, hand on the doorknob, not ready to relinquish being outside. There is a richness to it all, soft, silky layers, in part the almost-ending of our desert summer, I think. And I am still awash in my first foray into leading spontaneous writing online with Zoom, still bathed in the feeling of being with my three guinea pigs who came to help me do this test run, the feeling of the four of us together, our faces on my laptop screen, the unexpected warmth of it. I am certain they were sent by the gods. Our first writing prompt was about finding something extraordinary or nourishing in ordinary acts, and now my time with them imbues my everyday tasks tonight, awash in the extraordinariness of how we were together. Intimate, connected, easy, this collection of strangers, four women. We wrote together and then read our work, wonderful writing, thoughtful comments on each piece, laughing together, heartfelt, delighted. I can’t stop grinning. A remarkable evening, one of those unlooked for gifts, that easy balance between us, the give and take. Charmed, impromptu, dear.
I sweep the courtyard in the morning heat. It is covered with seed casings and feathers and the odd dried bougainvillea blossom. I am sick of the mess. I remind myself I love my birds, that this is a small price to pay. I know this because decades ago I was vacuuming just after my dog Sanji died, and I smelled her warmed fur in the machine. I cried thinking about all the times I resented her hair on the furniture, how much dirt she brought in, how I would so gladly deal with it now if only I could have her back. Still, I am grumpy and resentful of the daily bird mess. The hot, humid air only makes it worse. I am angry with myself for not hosing down the cement, for wanting to wait until I’d be home for a longer stretch to enjoy it, setting up the umbrella, bringing out the pillows. I am angry at myself for wanting it all to be perfect at the same time. I know the daily bird mess would feel less overwhelming if the cement wasn’t so spotted with bird poop, so filthy sweeping seems to make little difference. I think of all the birds partying here when I am gone, living it up all over the courtyard. They don’t do that when I’m home. Still, I am pulled down by my grumpiness. I sweep beside the edge of the cement and look down. There is a small mango nestled in the dirt. It stops me, it’s soft greens and golds, the smoothness of its skin when I pick it up. I rest the mango on my open palm, look at the sturdy little tree who has been so abundant this summer. She has jasmine and a wild vine with trumpet flowers looping about her, but she seems content. I remember how lucky I am, how much I have, how much I am given, always. I look up and see the last quarter moon in the blue sky, another gift. I slough off my discontent. It is heavy, anyway. I let the earth swallow it. I lean the broom against the washing machine, wrap both hands around the mango, chastened. “I promise to savor it,” I tell the tree. I carry the mango inside to the cooler air, grateful.