I blame it on Alexa. She must have set my alarm for the wrong time. I wake up knowing it’s too late to get to the footbridge in time to hear the bells chime the hour. I put my sandals on, muzzy from my nap, and head out into the warm wind of early evening. The water in the creek surprises me each time I see it, and I wonder why I am not walking beside it every day until it’s gone. I talk to a raven on the sand, watch the moving water, stop on the bridge and look down at the falls at the concrete drop, still loud from the snowmelt but no longer thunderous. On the way home I hear a frog begin to croak. “Oh,” I ask him in my head, “are you lonely, too?” The question surprises me like the water surprises me. I stop on the path. Am I lonely? I feel a subtle ache, a kind of longing. A little lonely, yes. This morning I woke up with thoughts about being left out. Maybe that has stayed with me. But I’m glad, too. Content, quieted, grateful. While I stand there sorting it out inside me, other frogs join in, six or seven voices, a companionable chorus. It makes me grin. I cross the street, and a raven wings toward me. Is he the same one I spoke to earlier? He lands beside me in a fan palm, and I stand still in the middle of the road. Between the frogs and this bird, I no longer feel alone. And because I’ve stopped before I turn the corner, I hear the bells, after all, tolling the half hour in the late dusk.
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.]
My new piece doesn’t win the Fish Flash Fiction contest. I am stunned. I thought I was going to win. I thought “The Second Flood” was that good. (Did I know I thought I would win? Have I ever thought I would win before?) I scan the short list and then the long list. My piece is not on either one. If I needed to right now, I would be unable to speak, to push out words that make sense. I scan the short list and the long list two more times in case I missed my name. It is not there. There were more than 900 entries, but I can’t believe my story wasn’t even in the top ten percent. I plunge. I wonder how I could have been so delusional. How could I think my piece was any good at all? I know I am a terrible writer. I am underwater, deep in the cold sea where no light lives. I don’t know how long I stay submerged. Maybe work drags me back up, makes be break the surface, breathe air, answer helpdesk questions, grade summaries. Days pass. I am lying on my back in the courtyard in chavasanah. I dream up ways my livelihood might move even more toward my writing. I picture percussive instruments at my writing retreat, and my feet bounce on the yoga mat. I think of a new way of structuring, “When I Was a Dog.” My fingers itch for the pen. “Commit more deeply to your No. 1 focus,” this week’s horoscope says, “and throw yourself into the daring adventure of it.” I leap. This water is warm, strewn with sunlight. I roll over and float on my back, let the tide take me. I remember I can swim.
The mama hummingbird is devoted to her young. She builds them a home, keeps their eggs warm, feeds them again and again, ignores the toll it takes on her. Last year I worried, watching her in the guayaba tree through the open louvered windows. I wanted to help, to make it a little easier, or at least less hard. My birding teacher had no suggestions. But even now I wonder. Can’t I bring her bugs? I didn’t plan this, didn’t dovetail the theme of devotion and the header/photograph of the hummingbird nest. They happened each on their own, independent. Now I think, how perfect. Is there a greater devotion than hers? My eyes droop as I type, a long day behind me. But I am determined to post tonight, start this year of blogging out right. Writing group today was a sweetness, only six of us for a change, the core group, just us chickens, no eggs, the luscious easiness of writing together. I am devoted to my writing now. It grew in little ways, layering over time. Today it feels bigger than ever inside me. Is it a flame or a river? Water or fire? It depends on the day, I think. But the devotion is steady now. Today we each wrote a kind of dialog, a good prompt from Two Sylvias Press, their writing prompts for April, National Poetry month. It is my month, too. All month, mine. A loud military plane passes overhead. My nose itches. The cricket who has moved into the back room is serenading me. I turned two pennies over to heads-up in the course of the day, wishing good luck to the people who pick them up, a tradition I learned and copy. The Chinese say crickets in the house are good luck, too. The waxing crescent moon sinks behind the mountains. I sink, too.
I pick up my manuscript again on Friday after three months. I cradle it to my chest. I love it without opening it. Then I spend the day reading it. I mark changes in my purple Pilot. It surprises me how few things I find compared to all the other passes I have made. There is magic in this, the way I don’t push, the way I read it all the way through, the way I treasure it. Not big, intense moments, but deep ones and quiet ones, knowing I am happy with this book of mine. The next morning when the sky begins to lighten I see the waning crescent moon. I go back to bed and dream I am on a boat beside an island. There are five carved wooden birds near the top deck, painted in blues and reds and blacks. I get my camera because I am hunting for a new photograph for my coming year of blogging. When I look through the lens in the dream, I see the intelligence in the birds’ eyes, a keen knowing, and the moon hangs below them in the morning light. When I wake up and go out to feed the birds, a hummingbird lands on the top arc of the bougainvillea, and in the curving of my head to watch her, I see the moon again in our daylight sky, echo of the dream. In the last of the late afternoon, I walk to Ralph’s. When I leave the store it’s almost dark. The palm fronds are moving in a warm wind, and the light of late dusk feels again like magic, like I am coming back out into a different world. Sometimes, I think, the years I might have left to me seem too short.
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.
I take off my necklace before yoga practice, lean forward to lay it on the glass tabletop in my courtyard. I’m not paying attention. I wake up partway through the act. There is something alive on the table. I make a little noise, wave my hands, knee-jerk startle, before I come to all the way and see who it is. It’s a small, scruffy male house finch, touched with orange-yellow. He is sitting in the shade of the umbrella facing away from me, his feathers unkempt. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “You scared me.” I laugh because it is funny being scared by a bird. I bring seed in a sturdy metal dish, water in a red glass bowl. I move with care, but I push them close. He is missing one eye, partly blind in the other, I think. I murmur gentle sounds, gentle wishes. He turns toward my voice, moves his head as though maybe he can get a kind of read of my basic shape. He is not alarmed. I let him be, and he steps onto the edge of the metal bowl to eat. He is slow and steady. He eats for a long time while I do sun salutes beside him, careful not to swoop my arms up too swiftly each time I rise. I wonder if this is the most food he’s been able to have for a long time. I wonder if he’s nearing his end. After, I sit on my yoga mat and look up at him. He’s drinking the water, scooping up mouthful after mouthful. It is so dear to watch it brings tears to my eyes. He’s so beautiful, all delicate grace. I glance away, and then he’s gone. I bow forward, ask the bird gods for mercy. When I go to L.A., I leave the bowls on the table for him just in case.