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.
I daydream about the two of us playing this greeting game. I begin because of the new big cup I bought for drinking my morning tea. I don’t start thinking about you, but you are evoked. Cocked head moment while these thoughts move through me and the mountains go orange with that first light of the sun. House finch, bougainvillea, the sliding glass door wide open. “Good morning, gorgeous,” I say. I read it from the side of my new cup. The birds are loud. I say it again and again, experimenting with the delivery. I say it like a dreamy 1930s MGM male lead and giggle. I am having fun more often, make myself laugh out loud. Somewhere in this reverie you arise, softened as I am toward you because of my book. I imagine the sleepy-voiced man who is still calling be gorgeous after decades together, like it’s all lovely and automatic. Darn the writing. Darn you.
I live in the palo verde in the woman’s courtyard. I have waited seven years to be up in this green tree, high above the moist earth that was my home. I sing to summer, cicada sounds in me. Summer serenade, stealthy buzz, begin and end, sudden, sultry, magic. I am a magic cicada. I can turn summer into fall, drive humans from their beds, angry shouts in the night, the slamming of windows. So now I like to stay where I am wanted. This palo verde likes me in her arms, rocks me in the breeze. I am more than a little in love with her. Serena, the woman calls her. She says it like a word in Spanish. She asked the tree’s name when she planted her and saw the word in her head, scrap of paper in her mind, words from an old typewriter like letters from her father when she was a little girl, the name Serena popping out. I didn’t think I’d ever love a tree like this, much less a human. But the woman likes me. She really likes me. And after all those angry windows closed against me in the dark, it is like heaven, like cotton candy, like marbles in the moonlight to feel the woman’s pleasure when I begin to sing. Ah, cicada. I hear her whisper, feel her cherishing my song. If she saw my bug body, I don’t know if she would be able to embrace me as wholly as she does my music. But I know she would honor me still, protect me in every way she can, bug body and all. It makes me want to cry, sitting in Serena in the early dusk, so lucky here in the warm desert sky, feeling the woman’s gladness as I begin to sing.
[Editor’s note: This is a slightly revised version of an 11-minute writing in response to a Natalie Goldberg prompt to write a “waking daydream” that I wrote downtown with Stef on Wednesday in the late morning with the misters on.]
I sit on the side of my little road and watch the day arrive. I can’t see the eastern sky from my courtyard, so I bring my metal barstools outside the fence (so I can put my feet up), and I carry out the wobbly wooden stool with care where the candle will sit and which might house my tea but these days sports coffee with half and half. I try to be quiet, not bump into things in the dark, aware of my neighbors. I stretch out my legs and settle in as the sky begins to lighten. I face southeast and watch Venus rising, have the honor of a mockingbird singing and displaying at the top of the electric pole before me. I warm my hands on the cup, sip my coffee, close my eyes sometimes when his performance is especially melodic or visually impressive. I feel bad when I get lost in thought and realize I have missed part of his concert or this coming of the day, even though I love the chance to daydream, too. When I am both present and lucky I get to relish his incandescent song and the glory of the morning splashed against the sky. Today there are echoes of deep pink spread across the southern clouds, stopping just before they tint the San Jacintos. Wide stretches of sky between the clouds become that otherworldly aqua color the twilight minutes often bring us here in the desert. We’ve had an extraordinary spring, no doubt due to the extra rain the gods granted us. For weeks the mockingbirds in my neighborhood sang without stopping, day and night. There seemed a kind of frenzy in it, the sheer numbers of singers and that ceaselessness I had yet to experience. Now in the middle of May, our desert spring is over, but this one mockingbird still comes to the telephone poll to serenade me. I lean back in my front-row seat and savor his song. The neighbor’s calico cat trots by on her early morning rounds, surprised but not deterred by my presence in the road. She is not interested in me, intent on her own pursuits, so I return to my morning concert. The waning moon and Venus stay close, too, for a long time—companions in the sky.
I’ve taken to counting us in the courtyard. The other day there were nine mourning doves and one goldfinch. I made eleven. I think this counting thing’s because the white crowned sparrows left. I don’t want to believe they’re really gone. And I still miss my own small furred ones. But I’ve had so many encounters with the feathered of late, too. There is my hummingbird mama and her two little ones in the guayaba tree who are a surprising, tender thread woven through my days. At the park I have a long conversation with a grackle in a nearby tree and watch a volunteer from the animal shelter walk a big dog that stirs my longing. I hear a hawk call. I look up to see him land in the tree behind me. I don’t know what kind of hawk he is, but I have an uncanny feeling when I hear his voice and watch him settle in the branches of the tree. Oh, yes, I know you. I’ve known you for a long time. Later I wonder if this hawk has been nearby for years, or if he is someone I have known before in this life or another. Oma comes to mind. Oh, and in the courtyard I look up to scores of egrets flying northwest across the late dusk sky. Such a gift, this glancing up, the chance to watch their silent progress. And this long flurry of birds reminds me of the dream where I stand with a handful of people in a big clearing surrounded by trees. All kinds of birds circle the clearing, a steady, patient flapping of wings. A blur of movement, rush of air and feathers. Someone calls out. It feels like they’re waiting for us to do something. Or maybe we’re all waiting together. I’m wearing old hiking boots and holding my wooden walking stick loosely in both hands. I turn to look over my shoulder at the birds. I spot the belly of a red shouldered hawk as he passes, just out of reach if I stretched my fingertips up to him. I spy white crowned sparrows bobbing in and out, and house finch, too. I see a Eurasian collared dove, big and gangly by comparison, the slower moving bear to their darting squirrels. John says he has roadrunners who live in the tree in his back yard. They are great darters, too. In the dream, we are an odd host, but we are gathered and steady. Hawks, crows, northern flickers, hikers, songbirds, people’s dogs and kids weaving in and out, noses on other things. We are an unusual line of defense.
I dream I am on the phone talking to Mami. “Thank you for going underwater with me,” she says. I have a dim memory of holding hands at the edge of a lake, bending our knees, submerging ourselves in the cool, shallow water. It makes me want to do it now as I write, remembering the dream. To come up together sputtering, scattering drops of water across the quiet laketop, our laughter loud across that stillness. Her voice on the phone comes out choppy and odd, like the words are hard to grasp, then hard to push out. “I’m going to miss you,” she says later in a small voice. I am incredulous. What, when you go? When you die? I can’t believe I am scoffing her even in the dream. Because I am shielding myself? Because I am not being present? In my mind I am thinking, I will miss you. I wish I had dropped down, met her where she was. I wish I’d told her how much I would miss her, how terribly so. I wish I’d told her I won’t know how to be in this world without her.
I’m doing sitting practice on a Thursday morning in March. All the windows are open. I can hear the low hum of the swamp cooler in the back room, feel puffs of air against my skin. When I open my eyes the bougainvillea in the courtyard catches my heart. I close them again, take a long breath in, a long breath out. I feel a familiar tightness in my belly, like it might be messing with my breath. I stay with the feeling, sink deeper. All at once I know this part of me has been afraid for 59 years. The knowing floors me. I’m heartbroken for her. Her dedication humbles me, decades of being afraid on my behalf, wanting to keep me safe. I talk to her. I tell her how sorry I am she’s been afraid all these years and I didn’t know. I invite her to let go. I’ll be afraid again, I say, but you no longer need to hold it all the time. I am bowled over by her sheer strength, to have held this fear all my life. I cry, cradle my belly with my palms, my forearms, both sad and grateful for her sacrifice. I’ve known my fat was a way to protect myself, but this deepens my sense of this. Was my body trying to cocoon this ball of ancient fear, buffer her, maybe, so her efforts might be just a little easier? It’s okay now, I tell her. We’re safe here, I say. We’re safe here doing sitting practice beside the open sliding glass door, the house finch chattering in the courtyard. (Well, safe barring maybe an earthquake, I think.) I tell her she can come on duty now only as needed. You don’t need to do this all the time, I say. I don’t know if she can unfurl just like that, but I vow to remind her again and again. I am still made dumb by what she’s done, this gallantry, the immensity of this feat. It’s okay, I tell her again. It’s okay to rest now in between, I say. Rest, the way the deer’s body relaxes when the danger’s passed, the way she returns to ease, nibbles more grass. Rest, the way the white-crowned sparrows drop down one by one from the bougainvillea after I walk by, going back to eating seeds from the ground, talking music. Rest, I tell her. Sleep, even, if you can. I’ll be right here.