The Waxing Light (41)

I am lying on my back on my yoga mat. I’ve come late to my practice today, so I’m on the living room floor, chased inside by the cold air. I move my head, and I can see the last light in the sky through the window, still visible in contrast against the darkness of the bougainvillea leaves in the late dusk. The white of the sky is a soft glow, like muted neon or dimmed florescence. I turn my head back, and my eyes sweep the little row of snow globes on the windowsill. There is something peculiar about them this evening, something caught in their curved glass. I check the sky again. Are there clouds up there, still lit by the sun long lost to our edge of the valley here beside the mountains? Sometimes the clouds are lit golden. But there are no clouds, and it’s too late really for them to still catch and hold the sun’s light from their heights. And then I realize what I’m seeing. It’s the Christmas lights I have woven around the bougainvillea trunk and branches. The green and blue and red and amber lights are showing up in my snow globes, five strands glowing there in miniature. I’ve always loved them, I think, in part because they’re little worlds, and they’ve never felt more like that than this moment with these tiny strings of lights alive in them.

Five colored lights against the stepping stones

Glass bird in window with white feathers

I think of the lights I laced along the curtain rod in my Ajijic apartment, looping down into the windows so people would see them from the street below. I remember the white glass bird hanging there, a photograph somewhere, the white tail feathers floating against the window screen. I think of the rounded yellow bird so like that white one, that hung on my shower rod with three glass hummingbirds in Santa Rosa, and the shock of the crash when the rod gave way that afternoon, nothing but glorious shards left in the bathtub. I think of the new glass rooster on my patio table, sunlight through the red glass of his comb, his tail, his wattles. It is my love of color and light that leaves me always reluctant to take down my Christmas lights. I left them up late in Ajijic, too, though I felt self-conscious about it there. Would this be another mark of my crazy estadounidense self? Here I don’t seem to care what my neighbors think of me, the solar lights still sharp and vivid in the hedge beside the gate at night.

two tall palm streets strung with white lights

But I was glad all out of proportion to see two people in my neighborhood who still have their lights turned on, too. I asked Ana about it once, if people in Ajijic ever left their Christmas lights up despues del año nuevo, after the new year. She told me some people wait until after Candlemas to take them down. Candlemas is the Christianized name for one of the main pagan holidays on February 2nd. The Catholics call it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But as I understand it, we celebrate the waxing of the light. I told Ana I liked that idea, a kind of sanctioned extension of my pleasure in the lights. What better way to honor the growing light than with these bright colors in the dark? When I finish my yoga, I move on hands and knees to the windowsill, stare deep into the small glass globes. It is a wonder, I think, these tiny strands of light that stretch within them, sharp and clear and luminous. I bow to the light in each and every one of us. Namaste, indeed.

New Year’s, Too (40)

I don’t remember the noise of New Year’s Eve in Ajijic. But after October with the steady rotation of the statue of Guadalupe from church to church, rockets marking the progression every morning at 5am, and the two weeks of our saint’s festival, culminating in whole days of almost ceaseless explosions–not to mention having lived through the rainy season with the cascading thunder (!)–I am betting New Year’s Eve seemed quiet there in comparison.

Cobblestone street in Ajijic

I do remember walking through the village on New Year’s Day, spying the evidence of street fires in every neighborhood. Everything was rather impressively cleaned up, no trash or half-burned logs or even big ashes left in the road from the last embers. But you could see the charcoal remains dusting the cobblestones every block or two, and you could feel the quiet, everyone asleep after the big night. Later I learned from Ana they would make tamales and have a fire in front of their own house on Zapata. They would stay up all night, eating and drinking and enjoying each other, the family, the neighbors, nearby friends. Staying up all night seemed to be part of the tradition, though I didn’t ask why. One truly greets the new year that way, I am thinking, more than only marking midnight.

Now every year I picture them together in the street on New Year’s Eve, the firelight dancing on brown faces, dark shining hair. I imagine Rodolfo has made his pipián, and there is a big metal pot filled with homemade tamales, and the corn husk wrappers pile up beside it as the night moves toward the dawn. I can almost taste the masa, can almost hear them singing. Happy new year, everyone.

On Calling Home (36)

I’m trying to get it together to mail a package to Ana and Rodolfo for Christmas this year, something the whole family can enjoy. I failed to get it there in time before, sent something late two years ago, incomplete. This year I have a puzzle, a night scene that looks like Italy. I went to buy vegetable seeds yesterday for the milpa, but True Value didn’t have their new stock in yet. I want to get some photos made for them, maybe the Mexican marigolds in my garden, pictures of my cats napping on the patio. I worry they’ll think I’ve forgotten them. The last time I spoke to Ana was in January when I called to talk to Isabel on the day of her quinceanero. I never called back to see if her card arrived with the magic Mexican pesos still tucked inside it, worn bills I had carried in my wallet for years like good luck charms.

I’ve thought of calling often, mornings like this when I sit quiet on the patio and let my thoughts wander back to Ajijic, with Ana and Rodolfo always at the heart of it. I especially wanted to call them on el dia de los muertos and for Thanksgiving, too. I wonder if they celebrated it there this year, the expatriate’s customs rubbing off on the locals. They are people I am grateful for, so I wanted to call to let them know. But I didn’t. I haven’t called since that morning in January, the whole family in a happy flurry getting ready for Isabel’s big day. And I ache for not hearing their voices, not learning las noticias, the news. But something keeps stopping me from calling, and I ask myself again and again what it is. I’m pretty sure it’s not the difficulty of speaking Spanish over the phone, the disadvantage of not having their facial expressions and their gestures to help me out. I suspect, instead, it is the way the thought of them squeezes my heart.

Still, for the fullness of the moment, hearing their familiar voices on the phone, reveling in the sound of their laughter, of laughing together though we’re 1600 miles apart–I tell myself to call soon. That richness is worth the small heartbreak sure to follow.

Incarnations of Yerba Maté (35)

This morning I let myself drink two cups of yerba maté. I bought two tea bags from the health food store here on Saturday, my latest approach to letting myself indulge in this addiction now and again. Each sip is delicious, the unique, bitter aroma, the coconut milk and agave a divine alchemy with the sharp flavor. I think of the even more wonderful maté I can buy in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs. But I don’t let myself buy it because I’ve learned I’ll drink it until it’s gone. And then, I remember the first time I drank that same quality of yerba maté, and it carries me to Ajijic.

my Ajijic balcony with the chair and pots of flowers, including the terra cotta I mention with the bougainvillea

I am on the sidewalk near the little health food store two blocks from my apartment on Aldama, the one on the frontage road north of the highway, beside the nursery where I bought my bougainvillea for my balcony and that lovely oblong rectangular terra cotta pot. The health food store is run by a woman and her husband who live in Guadalajara. I like them both very much. I pause before the nursery next door, run my eyes over the plants spilling out onto the sidewalk, inhale the scent of gardenias, then move past and enter the open store front. Yerba maté is not a thing in Mexico–it’s more a South American drink–so I don’t really expect them to carry it, but I ask anyway. I’ve forgotten in the moment the owners are from South America themselves. The woman is there today. She nods then smiles at my surprise, walks toward one of the shelves in the small space, hands me a large bag of loose yerba maté. I am shocked they have it, dismayed it’s not in teabags. I buy it anyway, then buy a small sieve from the Soriana in Chapala. I brew it in a glass pitcher in my rental kitchen, strain it with my new sieve.

In Palm Springs now, I use the sieve every day, to strain my alfalfa, oatstraw, horsetail, to catch my seeds when I make a glass of lemon water. But this morning I use the two precious Guayaki teabags I have allowed myself. I sit in my courtyard and savor every sip, relish the clarity of the mountains before me, the peace of the late autumn morning. And then I am back in my rental kitchen in Ajijic, the ridge of the hill outside my window, running that deep green Argentinian maté through my Mexican sieve. I mix in the half and half and local honey I bought from the tiangis. I walk out to the balcony, and I sit in my big chair. I sip the creamy hot sweetness while I look out across the lake below, and the crimson flycatcher makes acrobatic swoops from the neighbor’s chimney across the narrow cobblestone street.

I Carry My Longing (32)

I carry Mexico inside me in a way I’ve never known before. It’s half longing, half comfort, I think, as though the country is part of my bedrock now from my short stay–unexpected, surprising, constant. Other places reside in me, too. The open fields of Sonoma County, Sebastopol’s apple orchards alive in the white of full bloom. But they live quietly, rich moist earth breathing peace. I loved it there. For the first time I thought, I could spend the rest of my life here. But I don’t dream of going back, not like with Mexico, though I don’t rule it out. I dream again and again of going back to Mexico. I imagine really moving there this time, not just going like I did before, for a year or two, maybe forever, not returning in a rush to the United States. I can see myself there, sitting in my walled garden, sparrows and white-winged doves in the bougainvillea, daily walks along the malecón, the boardwalk, watching my volcano across the lake. I can picture myself older, taking extra care moving across the cobblestone streets.

Day to day, I hold the longing to return, to make Mexico my own. It lives in the crook of my elbows, hides behind my knees. And yet I wonder if I will ever make that choice. Questions rise in me, yeast in the dough. Can I live again with spiders the size of my hand? What about feeling like “the other” there? Would I grow used to it, morph into new skin, my roots sinking deep in foreign soil? Would my life in the United States fade like a dream? I think it might. I can imagine missing people here, urging them to visit me there. I can imagine missing the conveniences, Trader Joe’s, the rules of a bureaucracy where I can know what to expect. But I can’t picture me living in Mexico and carrying this same longing for life in the United States. When I think of living in Mexico again, I only picture being home.

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.]

Seasons (26)

I’ve heard the mockingbird singing from the top of the fan palm three mornings in a row. Today when I was lying on my back in the courtyard on my yoga mat, I listened to the verdin’s sweet three-note call. I pictured him sitting in the pine tree, his bright yellow cap and cheerful eyes hidden among the long green needles. Last week, both the hibiscus and the apricot mallow began to bloom again. The crickets have woken up, too. In spite of still mostly three-digit temperatures, they all recognize the secret signals, a heady mixture of the fewer hours of high heat each day, the angle of the sun making its way south, the nights in the seventies. And they aren’t grumbling like I am–tired of the heat, my tolerance used up–though they have more reason to than I who could escape it. They don’t indulge in weariness–they bounce. They celebrate in song, in bloom.

Apricot mallow with the sun shining on fuzzy leaves and one bloom

And their festivities cheer me on. I relish the feel of the cotton sheet over me in the early hours of the morning, the occasional weight of Sofia against leg or hip, missing for months now, a welcome surprise. I look forward to the day when I’ll be seeking the warmth of the sun on the patio when I do my yoga instead of hiding from it. I’ve lived in California most of my life, and still I bristle when someone tells me there are no seasons here. They are subtle but marked. Do not tell me otherwise. Soon the long clusters of green berries on the fan palm will ripen, and the starlings will feast, scattering in shiny black chattering when I walk outside. The days will grow shorter, the blue of the sky deeper. Riding my bike will become sheer bliss. Sometimes I think our desert, where some claim we have only two seasons, may mark the changes in the year more clearly than other parts of the state. Though I realize the changes are less visual than visceral. Here in the fall we begin to reawaken. We return to a state of grace, of ease in the outdoors.

one red hibiscus bloom, cropped

The seasons were subtle in the places I lived in Mexico, too. But they were undeniable unless you just weren’t paying attention. In Todos Santos, the summer rains made for muggy heat, a boon for bugs, biting and otherwise. But it washed the dusty desert clean, changed the color of the world, the lush plant life made new. In winter you could go barefoot in the warm dry days. I remember sitting in my third-floor roost in La Casa Azul, my feet propped up against the rebar railing, marveling at being barefoot in the middle of January. You knew it was winter there by the nights. In Ajijic, jacarandas trumpeted the burgeoning spring, their lilac blossoms littering the cobblestones. The “rainbirds” were the harbingers of the summer rains, not birds at all but insects, a kind of cicada, I think. You could mark the onset of the rains on the calendar from the date you first heard the rainbirds sing. Autumn there meant a world of green, the hills bathed in all their new-growth glory after months of nightly rain. And fresh, sweet corn was everywhere.