I am early for sangha, for sitting practice and sharing, so I choose one of my favorite benches outside the dog park. It’s hot, 110 degrees, but I am shaded by a trio of young, beautiful trees, three small still-blooming palo verdes. I eat my little meal slowly, savor the crisp cabbage with guacamole, the sharp radishes with salt, the small cup of macadamias, walnuts, pistachios. It’s good to do things slowly when it’s 110 degrees, and I seem to be learning this. Small moment by small moment, I notice there is no one in the dog park, and even the birds are missing, hiding out from the heat. No one is here except me and one small verdin in the tree to my left. His presence comforts me. “Just the two of us,” I say. He moves from tree to tree within this triangle, nibbling on the tiny leaves, I think. Or maybe he is finding tiny bugs. When he flies away, I miss him. It’s just me now. But I am still content, take in the trees, the quiet, the peace. I don’t remember things going quite so still in the afternoon. I wonder if I wasn’t paying attention. The delight is our summer was delayed this year. Maybe it’s taking everyone by surprise, shocking us all into silence.
I live in the palo verde in the woman’s courtyard. I have waited seven years to be up in this green tree, high above the moist earth that was my home. I sing to summer, cicada sounds in me. Summer serenade, stealthy buzz, begin and end, sudden, sultry, magic. I am a magic cicada. I can turn summer into fall, drive humans from their beds, angry shouts in the night, the slamming of windows. So now I like to stay where I am wanted. This palo verde likes me in her arms, rocks me in the breeze. I am more than a little in love with her. Serena, the woman calls her. She says it like a word in Spanish. She asked the tree’s name when she planted her and saw the word in her head, scrap of paper in her mind, words from an old typewriter like letters from her father when she was a little girl, the name Serena popping out. I didn’t think I’d ever love a tree like this, much less a human. But the woman likes me. She really likes me. And after all those angry windows closed against me in the dark, it is like heaven, like cotton candy, like marbles in the moonlight to feel the woman’s pleasure when I begin to sing. Ah, cicada. I hear her whisper, feel her cherishing my song. If she saw my bug body, I don’t know if she would be able to embrace me as wholly as she does my music. But I know she would honor me still, protect me in every way she can, bug body and all. It makes me want to cry, sitting in Serena in the early dusk, so lucky here in the warm desert sky, feeling the woman’s gladness as I begin to sing.
[Editor’s note: This is a slightly revised version of an 11-minute writing in response to a Natalie Goldberg prompt to write a “waking daydream” that I wrote downtown with Stef on Wednesday in the late morning with the misters on.]
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.