This morning I coast on my bike again in that arc behind Ralph’s. I hear the mockingbird again, see the big waning moon hanging above the San Jacintos, then that surprising scent of fresh mint in the air. And it comes to me that this odd back way that passes by their dumpster has become an unexpected highlight for me, one of those repetitions akin to that freeway overpass in Oakland that also makes that lovely arc when the Oakland hills and north Oakland lie beyond and below and you move with the long curve of it, suspended in time. Or the bend on Tilton Road in Sebastopol when you walk downhill and round Scary Corner and if you are lucky you find turkey vultures perched in the oak trees with their wings spread wide, seeking the sun.
It is hard for me to name fresh, new times when I felt like I belonged because I have written about most of them already, the ones that stand out. That pile of young women on Vicki’s living room floor, laughing. Girl Scout camp, Camp River Glen, singing in the dining hall or beside the fire at night—all of me engaged, connected, joyous. For me more often is the sense of being in a group but not of it, a rigidity in my body, an inability to rest with these people who seem so at ease together. I don’t know what the common thread is, aside from myself, me as the thread. Often I just haven’t experienced what they describe—I feel different, set apart, as if they all truly come from common roots, and I am the strange flower carried far from the others, flown here by birds.
[Editor’s note: This is another short, timed writing from the Zoom daylong writing retreat on June 22nd.]
I still seem to be all over the place. I keep hoping I’ll regain my balance. Finding more time to sleep will help, I know. One morning I get up early for my walk, return home with time to sweep the courtyard, fill the feeders in the guayaba tree for my house finch. It’s the first time I haven’t been rushing to finish before my 8:30am work meeting, and when I carry out the big bag of seed, I feel joy come the way it used to. The next day I am anxious and short on the phone with a colleague, brittle and brusque the next day leading my “Sheltering in Place” writing session on Zoom. I resist how rigid I feel. “Some shelter you’re offering,” I mutter, mean to myself. I tell my story later on another weekly Zoom, my voice cracking. “I don’t want to be like this,” I say. Not very Buddhist, is it? All this resistance to what is. Today I yell at my mother. I make her cry. Later she’s angry at me when I call to apologize. “Well, you’re good at yelling,” she says. “Oh,” I say, hard voice in my brittle body. “Where do you think I learned it?” Silence. But I am still the monster who made her cry, though this time I let my own tears come, find my way out of this dark, stuck place. And later, too, I remember standing beside the creek bed yesterday in the shade beside a desert orchid tree. I remember how the hummingbird came to perch on a nearby branch of the tree, and I watched him preen. And then a raven glided overhead, low and close, and two mockingbirds spiraled past. One of them landed on the palm across the street and started to sing. I looked up just then and saw the waning crescent moon in the pale blue above the tallest branches, and it felt all of a piece, and me a part of it.
I yell into the phone. “I hate you!” This is my fourth try today with AT&T’s torturous automated system. I’ve walked through this untold times in recent weeks. My mother’s phone keeps going out because of the rain, old cables they don’t plan to replace. Today, the delightful system keeps routing me to a customer service queue and then tells me they’re closed. After I hang up, I stomp down the hallway muttering. “You are so Lily Tomlin’s phone company,” I say, and a half-smile works its way up inside me.
When the hawk leaves, I go outside the gate to get the newspaper. I stand beside the tecoma bush, enjoying its bright yellow blooms. Then the way a thin crescent moon reveals itself in a pale blue afternoon sky from one moment to the next, I see the hummingbird. He is upside down. He must have died perched on the small twig, his tiny talons still wrapped around it. I slide him off, place him in the shallow blue ceramic bowl I bought last month at the funky yearly sale here in the trailer park. I pick tecoma blossoms and bougainvillea, lay them in the bowl with him, one curved beside his beak, nectar for his journey to the world that lives here beside our own. I find a polished stone in my cupboard, small, not quite round. I lay it near his head, and it seems his companion in the greens and blacks and ruby reds of it, the two of them like gems beside each other.
Young corn plants growing, bright green shoots unfolding into leaves that bend and curve, little beings in the moist dirt. I don’t think I’ve ever met a happier plant than corn plants. But maybe in part it is the way they grow together that makes this true, that they sprout up in kinship with the other corn plants around them. Maybe they are happy because they are in community. Today they make me think of the brown pelicans gathered on the broad, sandy beach outside Todos Santos in Baja California Sur. They stood upright, too, in clusters, alert, their kind eyes watching me, old souls. Maybe corn folk are old souls, too.
a house across the creekbed
but the frogs make it okay
make it tolerable
so many voices
ceaseless call and response
I remember years ago
after the rain
on the path
you had to watch
where you put your foot.