I eat the best mango I have ever tasted. It wasn’t much to look at when it was still whole. It never got that lovely red blush. There was a small patch of yellow on the skin. I even put it in the refrigerator because I’d bought too much fruit. I didn’t want it to spoil. When I peel it, inside it is a rich orange, the flesh wet and firm. I cut it up in big, messy chunks, the mango slipping out of my hands. I gnaw on the big white pit. (I always want to save the pits, make art with them, but I resist.) I eat it in the courtyard with a small pile of Brazil nuts. I eat with my fingers, savor each bite. The cicadas—two of them, I think—begin buzzing in the Palo Verde when I am chewing the last piece. I don’t know how long I sit there, mesmerized by the lingering taste of sweet, delicious mango and the exotic summer song of the cicadas, the bowl propped against my belly. I come to with my hand still poised over the empty bowl, my fingers slick with mango juice.
It’s crazy hot. I’m dripping with sweat but reluctant to go inside. I’ve become attached to reading Natalie Goldberg and doing my “morning writing” on the patio, even on days when morning becomes late afternoon. Today she talks about being lonely, how Katagiri Roshi says we must stand up in it, not let ourselves be “tossed away.” I think of Bernardo. I saw him on the creek path last week. He told me how lonely he is, how women won’t engage with him because he is not wealthy, because he is short. I talked about how we often don’t get things we are too attached to wanting. It’s the way the universe works. I used my writing contests as an example, how I may be too attached to wanting to win. But my heart went out to him. Today my horoscope says that empathy is underrated but much needed, great for actors, parents. Teachers? Writers, too. But it isn’t always an easy gift. Empathy hurts. I know deep loneliness. Maybe without knowing I learned to stand up in it. I made my peace with it. Bernardo hasn’t, I don’t think. He’s hoping someone will come along to make it go away. It’s why I’ve always felt uncomfortable in our exchanges even though I like him and enjoy our talks. I sensed this, a kind of energetic grasping. Of course, there’s a hunger for connection, for physical closeness, too. It’s different from loneliness but a close cousin, all fruit of feeling alone in the world. Feeling connected to the planet helps. I miss walking every day for that, for the big picture connection. But even here in the courtyard I have my mountains, our palo verde, the birds, the moon, the wind that picks up now as I write, wanting to be included on my list. I feel lonely, yes, but not like years ago. Bernardo’s is a deep ache. I ache for him, for all of us, stumbling along being in bodies, saddled with the illusion we are all alone and separate, our odd human condition. We fumble, tumble into each other, mudballs all—stars inside us.
The hot air is thick with unfallen rain. My body feels too heavy to fly, so I walk along the creek. I see three white egrets. One is standing on one leg in the shallow water at the creek’s edge. The other two walk together. One keeps looking at the other. It feels like they are deep in conversation I can’t hear. I stop in the middle of the footbridge and face east. I can’t see the egrets now. But I hear a few frogs, just starting up in the early dusk. The crickets are singing, too, and I hear the buzz of cicadas in the cluster of smoke trees on the south side of the bridge. I run both hands along the sides of my face, my forehead, across my shorn hair, pushing back sweat. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and reach for that spot inside my skull. Nothing happens. I am trying too hard. “No, sweetling. Don’t push.” I can hear Kira’s voice as if it were yesterday and not two decades ago. She smiles, shakes her head. “Hold the thought—touch the place, but do not try to force it,” she says. She forms her words with care. English is not her native tongue. “Let it come,” she says. I blow breath through my lips and let them vibrate, make noise. I sound like a horse, I think. And then, horses can’t fly. I reach again, coaxing, gentle. The spot responds, thick and alive in my head. My feet leave the ground. I lift up, then falter and almost touch the bridge again. But I stroke the space inside me, that dense unseen thing, and I steady.
I lift up to the tops of the trees and hover, still hesitant. I have not been able to stay aloft for the past seven days, and I am afraid. “Easy,” Kira’s voice whispers. I remember to breathe, and I let myself drift east above the creek bed. I see the egrets again—they’d been hidden by a small palo verde. They look up but don’t react. The birds here are used to us by now. I turn over and stretch out my arms like a kid floating on her back. I am over the old golf course now, so I adjust my height to clear the tallest of the palm trees. I hear a grackle near where the pond used to be. It makes me happy. I haven’t heard a grackle here in a long time. Maybe we really are turning things around. Maybe it isn’t too late. I hope I’m right. Desirée doesn’t think so. We argued about it again last night. I can still taste the angry words in my mouth, still see her flying away from me as though she couldn’t leave me fast enough, moonlight on her back. Most people believe her. They think it’s too late. We are stupid and wasting our time. I only know a few who think like I do, who believe what we’re doing matters. Lisa. Shawnee. Verdis. But how could we not try? How could we live with ourselves if we didn’t? I begin to sink. My thoughts are making me too heavy. I’ve flown far. It will be a long walk back.
I like to wake up slow. When Sable is beside me, I turn over for morning kisses, pettings and rubbings of his soft furry face against mine. Today he takes off before kisses. Sofia comes instead. She never used to want to be touched, but now the cat she has become will present herself for affection in rare moments. (These times tend to be when I’ve just begun to work on the computer or have just sat down to dinner, and she’s pushy about it. I remind myself I don’t know how long she’ll be here because there is something about the way she invades I don’t find at all endearing.) This morning she is quiet. She gets in my face but then sits down. She lets me kiss the top of her head, stroke her cheeks. She stays for a long time. I talk to her about not hanging on for my sake, remind her to let me know when she’s ready to go. “I’ll help you go night-night,” I say. It makes me cry, good tears. I’m not open to her as often as I’d like to be, so this feels right. Then she decides to run off the bed, quick, jerky movements. She knocks my mini iPad to the floor. I yell at her. I remember I don’t want to yell at her. “Arrrgggghhhhhhhh,” I say, sotto voce, like the whisper of cheering baseball fans on the radio. But then I tell her she’s a creep. If I remembered to stop yelling, couldn’t I not call her names? Still, maybe it’s progress of a sort. I will add name-calling to the list, I think, as I walk to the door. I let the cats outside, step out into the courtyard with them. I say my little morning prayers. I try to forgive myself for yelling at Sofia (yet again). When I “come to,” when my eyes focus, I’m staring at the big waning moon just setting behind the San Jacintos. It is framed, postcard perfect, between the smooth green limbs of our Palo Verde. It makes me stop, this miracle, this affirmation of life, of magic in the world—this big gift. I stand there, grateful, and everything else seeps out of me. I watch, not moving, until she disappears behind the ridge. Goodbye, moon.
I hear a bird who is not one of my “regulars,” and I stop sweeping, stand listening in the open doorway of my trailer home. A timid peep comes from the Palo Verde, a verdin, who also doesn’t visit often. But his is not the sound I’ve stopped for. It was someone louder. Someone is calling from the top of the electrical pole across our small road. When I walk outside to look, I can’t see anyone up there. But he keeps talking, so I go get my binoculars. I used to bring them out to the courtyard every morning, to sit beside my notebook, my pens, my small pile of books. Sometimes I would just sit and watch my regulars, my mourning doves, my house finch, my hummingbirds. But they would be handy when someone unusual showed up. It’s a habit I’d like to resurrect. Now I study the top of the pole with the binoculars. It takes a bit of time, but when I see the bird it clicks. He is a great-tailed grackle, one of my favorites. I used to talk to them when I walked in the mornings along the bike path. But now there is no water for them on the golf course, and I don’t hear them anymore. I would say they never come to our trailer park, but there he is. I watch him on the pole, glossy black, big tail waving, intense. I stand listening to his calls. I should have recognized his voice. It is the sound of the Mexican mainland to me, a return to civilization, the exotic calls both welcome and comfort. He flies off heading south. I stand at the edge of my courtyard and watch him fly away. It feels like he came to visit me. Warm tears push at the corners of my eyes. And now the moon is in the south, too, a thin waning sickle in our pale blue sky. I breathe and settle. Goodbye, grackle. Hello, moon.
I sit on the stoop in the courtyard, my feet soaking in the round red basin I bought when I lived in Mexico. I’ve grown lax about my grooming. You would shiver if you saw my toes right now. There are a score of mourning doves on the ground in quiet pursuit of spilled seeds, and the goldfinch are noisy at the tube feeders. I’m reading the book my friend Richard lent me, The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg. Reading her connects me to the world of writing. It has since the beginning. I used to read Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind as often as they would have me. Her books make me feel I am part of a community of writers. I write now with my notebook on my thighs, the palo verde sending spotted shade across my forearm. Quiet pride rises in me. Maybe I am learning to stop the autopilot, the not breathing but moving always to the next thing. Can I make my days different even when my work becomes insane again? Today I remember twice to get on all fours on the concrete to kiss my black cat. I visit Sofia in the closet. This morning there were six goldfinch perched on the leaning sunflower outside the sliding glass door taking big bites out of the leaves. I watched them from bed and dreamed of a secret zoom lens to photograph them without moving, without making them scatter. I no longer reach for my laptop as soon as I wake up. Yesterday I took a shower before dark and marveled at the view outside the little window, the clouds pinking in the last reflected light, the sun long gone. I kept my eyes on the palm trees, on the sky, while I washed, dusk thickening. Now I perch on the steps in the late afternoon, a glass of lemonade beside me, my feet waiting prunes in the red basin. I hear the visiting cowbird’s song, glance up to see his shiny sleekness at the big tray feeder. His watery trill passes through my skin, chasing peace.
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.