Jazz (40)

Ah, yes. Yeah. Let it roll. Let it flip flop you around, slap the ears, soft like fur. Let it. Let it, ah, yeah. Let it make you move, only a little, mostly inside. Your heart, yeah, tap tap tapping. Your belly, yeah, keeping to the beat, the dance, the yes you can, the look at me look at us grooving. Yes, you can you can we can together we can let it roll under our tongues in our thumbs around and between us and inside us moving back and forth joining us while it passes through passes between passes along. Ah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Let it roll. Let it dance and sing. Let it ring and zing zing zing. Let it bounce between us hearts beating to the rhythm no separate selves only this room full of warm souls wrapped up together in the music.

[Editor’s note: This is an unedited piece (except for three words in the last sentence) in response to yesterday’s poetry prompt from the Two Sylvias Press advent calendar. Here is the prompt: “Write a poem about a style of music (jazz, hip-hop, blues, country, reggae, opera, heavy metal, etc.) while imitating the music style in the wording and phrases of your poem.” I feel shy posting it. Maybe it is too silly. But I felt the music right from the first line, and it was good fun letting the poem come through me. I hope it might be a little bit fun to read, especially out loud.]

Om Mani Padme Hum (11)

I fall in love with chanting at the retreat. Our first sitting practice each day begins at 6am. The windows are all still open before the heat comes. I have a big screen door at my back. The desert is quiet in the early morning, the soft, steady cheep cheep cheep of a verdin, the rarer song of a house finch. Sometimes I hear the wind moving outside the zendo, or the louvered curtains knocking against each other. The teacher rings the bell three times at 6:45, and we begin to chant. There are teaching chants, monotones with dips and rises. Following them uses all of me, keeps me present. Sister Dhamma Dera has written songs, too, and plays for us on a beautiful wooden stringed instrument laid across her lap. I like the singing best, and watching her concentrate, her sweet heart leaping and shining. Singing with all these open-hearted people reminds me of Girl Scout camp. I come home with one chant in my head though I don’t know if I have the melody right. I Google it and discover it’s one of the most common. What I remember from our chant book is the “jewel of compassion.” I want that—for myself, for others.

I sing it when we leave at the end of the retreat, and the woman driving isn’t sure we are going the right way on the dirt road. She’s afraid of getting stuck in the sand, of dying in the desert, and I think heading out without knowing the directions is only asking for trouble. So I sing “Om Mani Padme Hum” because I don’t know her very well, and it’s all I can think of doing to get out of the way, to be of any help. Now, the chant comes to me in odd moments, its steady rhythm silent inside me. I sing it out loud after yoga when I’m riding my bike to go vote. I pass a man standing at a bus stop underneath a big tree. When he turns toward me I draw in my breath. His face is blackened by the shade, his eyes big, desperate. My heart goes out to him, but I am shocked, too. I hadn’t expected what I see in his face. I don’t stop. The next day I see him outside the grocery store peering in the open doors. “Can I get you something to eat?” I ask. He nods. I have to get him to tell me what he’d like. “A sandwich and a soda?” he asks. When I return, he thanks me. “I’ll pray for you,” he says. Twice. I thank him. I am glad to see him again, to have this chance to respond to what I saw in him the day before. His eyes seem less bruised today, less haunted. I hope it’s true. I sing the chant out loud again on my way home, my voice quiet and sure, the air warm against my skin as I ride. “Om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum om mani padme hum.”

Bird Voices (53)

At odd moments, I find myself missing bird sounds. Have I just become greedy? This time of year when I wake up they are not nearby. I hear bird voices, but they are coming from a distance. Right now, though, someone chirps from the Palo Verde, the high note coming through the open kitchen window and then gone. I miss the goldfinch who used to chatter in my neighbor’s yard. Once in a while a house finch comes to sing in our tree. I stop to savor it, as though I can pull those liquid notes through my skin, his song alive in me beside my beating heart. And sometimes when I wake up now to muted sounds of life I remember that first spring when we lived on Avenida Ortega. Early every morning a cacophony of bird sounds grew and swelled, like nothing I have ever known before or since. I want that again, that unbelievable crescendo. But I will remember to relish what we have here and to never overlook the music, to cherish each voice always. And I’ll work to help build more of a community here, too. (I have secret hopes the hedges in the new development will come alive with birds.) Here’s to feeling once again at the center of that symphony.

As the World Turns (41)

yellow palo verde blossoms and buds

The mockingbirds seem to be celebrating the equinox today, marking this turning of the world. I have heard them singing day and night, more of them than I can ever remember. So, I think they must be heralding in this changing time. Yesterday I walked beside the creek bed with Audrey and Bear. I left them near the bridge and walked back along the path in the late dusk. The big frog choir starting up held all my attention, unconscious of my head cocked toward them as I walked. And I could hear a large gathering of birds beginning to roost in big bushy trees on the other side of the wash, their high-pitched calls coming across to me in waves as they settled in for the night. But when I left the path, it was the mockingbird songs that followed me home through the neighborhoods. They sang from the fan palm to the east, the telephone pole behind me. And when I was almost home a mockingbird was singing across the street in the tree whose name I do not know but whose smell takes me back to childhood. I felt the warm silky air against my calves, my face. This would be summer weather, I thought, almost anywhere else in the world. But here we have a chorus line of deep-voiced frogs and spiky ocotillos blooming red and the bursting of yellow Palo Verde blossoms everywhere you look. We have warm night air and mockingbirds singing their hearts out in the almost dark. Here we are in the throes of late, late spring. Happy vernal equinox. Happy solar new year, everyone.

More Night Music (8)

When I was walking home along the creek path the other evening, I heard a mockingbird. I stopped to listen, arms limp at my sides, my back to the creek bed. I could hear him singing behind the row of houses there. I was surprised to hear another bird pick up when he stopped, singing now from a little further away, and then a third one, quieter yet. Last night I heard this happen nearer our home. I have always thought of one mockingbird, a lone voice in the middle of the night or in the early dawn. But these birds were in this together. Their songs sounded joyful, musicians playing, improvising, meeting in that place where music goes, where music takes us, each connecting in those spaces. I think of that unexpected bird symphony now when I get ready to head out into the early dusk hoping for a little more night music.

May Music (6)

“I’d count myself lucky,” I said to her, or something like that. Was I snippy? Too harsh? I can’t remember, but I know there was a stiffness in me when I spoke, and I’m pretty sure I sounded critical. I was judging her because I couldn’t understand how having a mockingbird singing outside your window would be reason to lament, even in the middle of the night. “I’d count myself lucky,” I said. And I’ve been lucky in the last few weeks. There’s one who comes now to the electrical pole not far from the window by my bed. He sings from his perch there during the day, but it’s the late night hours I find the most enchanting. It reminds me of living in Santa Rosa years ago, not many months after I first learned who the mockingbird is. One would come to the tree outside my bedroom window and serenade our quiet neighborhood in the middle of the summer nights. It always felt like a dream, like magic, a holy visit. Now when I hear our Palm Springs mockingbird singing when the rest of the world is silent, that same sense of enchantment comes over me. I relish his song while I lie in bed, the way I savor the sound of raindrops on the roof, sometimes only half waking in the dark, like a lullaby, sending me deeper into dreams. The late night singing feeds me freesias and night-blooming jasmine, fresh sea air and moonlight on water. It feeds me stars and the night sky, the scent of moist dirt rising. Not once have I wanted to stop his singing, only to be able to keep listening, keep soaking it up like the dry earth soaks up rain. The mockingbird’s song is a dance, a celebration, an invitation to take wing. My heart soars with his cadence, and I slide back into sleep.

Dark As Night (28)

Dark as night the heads of children racing back and forth across the plaza shouting, hair shiny in the early dusk. Dark as night the grackles roosting in the jacarandas of the zocoló. Dark the skin of every single body in the crowded square, except her. Old men, young women, clustered, Spanish a loud, steady murmur, the rapid curve of a summer creek, as steady as the grackles calling from the trees, a cacophony of conversation, a mad frenzied orchestra tuning up. Dark as night the glistening black feathers, dark the skin, dark the grackle silhouettes, dark of every being in the zocoló but her, her white skin a bruised thumb, dumb with her estadounidense self. She would lose her Puerto Rican friend over a careless email about walking through the plaza in that Sunday twilight, the dirty cement, the alien dark-skinned world, her senses dulled by too much beer. Not racism, though, only sinking in a sea of otherness, aching and alone. But now she dreams of it like dessert. She’ll go again, sit nodding, smiling on a bench, tears sliding down her face in the half light. Eyes closed, the symphony surrounds her. The grackles make her heart dance in her chest, bump against her ribs. She holds still in the center of that boisterous foreign world where language is music. Her white skin gets lost in the late dusk until her estadounidense self all but disappears. She sits there while the light slips away, until it feels right to be there in the heart of things, dark as night and plain as day.

[Editor’s note: This piece was begun with a writing prompt from my Monday night writing workshop led by Alaina Bixon. We were told to begin a poem with a cliche. Thank you, Alaina.]