Hank shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he shook his head again. He wished Sally was here. She’d know what to do, what to say to his leftie child, this daughter of theirs. Her daughter maybe more than his, but he loved her like there was no tomorrow. He just couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her sometimes. This living with them again wasn’t something he saw coming, but here she was, rearranging the kitchen cupboards, hiding his ashtray. Hell, yesterday he even found a full box of his Frosted Flakes in the outside garbage can. What was she thinking? And now she was on to his politics, chastising him for not trying harder, for not being willing to camp out with her in protest at the community center. He was too damn old to sleep on pavement in the middle of December. And she was too damn old to be living with her parents. When was Sally going to get back, anyway? How long could it take to get her toenails done, for Christ’s sake? Since when did she even have her toenails done? He muttered again, opening the can of dolphin-safe tuna Alexa had bought for the cat. It was probably her idea, the toe painting deal. His wife had been perfectly content with doing her own toenails all these decades, and now when she should have been here helping him deal with her damn daughter, she was off getting her toenails doo-dawed instead.
Longing to me is about being in a body, like Zora Neale Hurston and our little mudballs, wanting to “show our shine.” I think the earth herself holds a kind of longing in her, a kind of yearning or ache, a sadness, maybe. To me it’s all wrapped up together, these clumps of earth us, what it means to be a being in a body, longing to belong, the impermanence of things in this life we live.
He was getting cold, but he wasn’t ready to leave. The winter sun abandoned his usual spot in the mid-afternoon, and he’d left his blanket outside the walls, folded with care and tucked up in the fork of his favorite tree. He wasn’t yet used to the sun being so far south in the sky, and these narrow streets blocked so much of the light in all seasons. He sighed and got to all fours, managed to stand up without groaning out loud. No one wanted to hear him groan, he knew. No one wanted to think he might be truly suffering, and he didn’t want people to think he was faking it to play on their sympathy, a ploy for more coins in his copper cup. The truth was he was getting old and creaky. Getting up off the cobblestones wasn’t as easy as it used to be, and the dampness in the stones, the cold that never left them for long this time of year, made it harder. But he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. He liked his life for the most part. He wouldn’t have chosen to go blind like this, slow and steady, but if something had to give, he thanked the Weaver every day that she hadn’t taken his hearing. Then he would have had to struggle not to feel sorry for himself. He might have become the pitiful sight some people already thought he was. But the Weaver had left him his hearing and his voice, so every day he got to lift himself up to the sky, carry himself across the tops of the eastern forest, sail across the southern sea. Weaver be praised.
He couldn’t believe the school was making him have a different kind of class card than everyone else just because he was a foreign student. Foreigner, they should have said. Dark-skinned Middle Easterner. Alien. Maybe he should just wear a sign around his neck: fucking scary. His grandfather would just shrug it off with that peculiar arrogance. But he didn’t feel like that. He wanted to be liked, to feel welcomed in this high school. In his biology class, they each had to take a blood sample from themselves, quick pinprick, smear across the slide. His lab partner Callie gaped when she looked through the microscope at his blood. He swore her jaw dropped. She looked up at him then, confused. He saw it on her face. She’d expected his blood to look different under the glass.
Two months after I moved in they broke ground on a small development where the open lot used to be, across the little road from my home. They bulldozed everything. They took the trees, the scrub brush, all the roosting places for the sparrows and the finches, all the homes and pathways of the rabbits and the coyotes. The roadrunners ran panicked back and forth for days. It broke my heart. Inside myself, I fought against it for the 18 months they were building. Later, I would stand at my window staring at the wall, the rooftops, the missing mountains, still all churned up inside. Today I don’t get angry when I look at it, but I still see what it used to be, like the spirit of that undeveloped land, that bit of wildness in the middle of town, still lies just beneath the surface like a dream.
[Editor’s note: This was written in response to a prompt from The Daily Poet, by Agodon and Silano, Two Sylvias Press.]
I dream of wearing a sign. Something like, “I’m so sorry. We want you here.” Sueno de tener un letrero que dice, “Lo siento mucho. Les queremos Uds. aquí.” Quiero decir, “No se vayan.” I want to say don’t go. Quiero decir que millónes mas gente no le votó como ellos que votaron para él, nuestro “residente.” I want to say three million more people voted against him than voted for him, our “resident” en la casa blanca. Quiero decir esto es su país, también. This is your country, too. Please don’t go. I speak to my favorite flower vendor, watch him take it all on his broad shoulders, this weighted world. I see him shrug, something I’ve admired for years, the way so often someone who grows up in Mexico can make so much room inside themselves for acceptance. “Vivimos la vida que viene,” he says. We live the life that comes.
In another August dream after I come home from the mountains, after the recurring dreams of moving on the river, I dream of swallowing stones. Not in an ordinary way, not like eating dirt, not gravel. Nothing hard on the teeth, the throat, the belly. But smooth round river rocks are inside me. I sit cross legged, upright, my spine erect, like sitting meditation. The rocks move in me, slow, silent travels up and down my spine. Then I am laughing, and on the uptake of breath I know I am being fed, inhaling goodness, being healed.