This year was laced with the absence of my cats, sometimes glaring, sometimes subtle, more muted as the year progressed. I lit a candle yesterday for Boo, one year to the day. I only cried a little. I’ve quieted most of my if onlys, I think, most of my what ifs. I’ve returned to winter quarters again this year after Boo taught me its wonders when he was sick, and I abandoned our courtyard to stay with him inside. From the blankets in the mornings I watch the San Jacintos, warm tea cradled in my hands. Now in the early dusk, I have the sliding glass door open. The white crowned sparrows flit about near the bougainvillea. I can hear them peeping, hear the rattle of the dried blossoms while they hunt for seeds. Now and then exquisite bursts of song erupt. One lone mourning dove comes to the big tray feeder. The solar Christmas lights looped in the bougainvillea will come on any minute now. The waxing moon is not yet far enough west for me to see her, but when I glance up, I surprise Venus in the clerestory window. The two have been bright companions in the evening sky, heralds of the season. The more the light leaves the day, the happier my timid sparrows are, playing in the corner of the courtyard. I can hear the traffic one street over, the clink of dinner dishes next door. I linger until the sparrows seek their beds, until only the ridge of the mountains is visible against the darkening sky. The solar lights wink on like magic, a bright, wild tangle. May we each be blessed with quiet, glowing, untamed peace like this through all our days and nights.
Hot air, brace against it. Remember to breathe, let it embrace you instead. Clear air today, the San Jacinto mountains so close you are sure you could stretch out your arm and pluck a jagged rock from the nearby ridge. More room on the sidewalks in summer. The city leans back, like vacation in a small seaside town. Palm Springs, I love you. I kiss you—you kiss me back, warm breath against my arms, my legs. I close my eyes and lift my face, inhaling you.
[Editor’s note: One of my ideas for earning money in a joyful, heartfelt way now that my income has shifted is to write spontaneous prose poems downtown for donations. This is my first effort for one of the business owners there. I told her she could pick a topic or I would just write what comes to me. She chose Palm Springs. The way she said the name it could have been a lover. I didn’t do it consciously, but I see now I have used her voice here. It was quick and fun, and by the last line I was fully “in it.” After, I took a picture of it with my iPad. I am torn about that part. Is it okay to want to keep them for myself, too? Or do I need to let them be gifts going out into the world without me? I look forward with good hope to writing more. Maybe I can find a way to do them one afternoon or evening a week? Two?]
Our sun is moving northward, quick passage, blinkings of the eye. For almost three months now I have sat here looking at the mountains, unobstructed views since our Palo Verde came down in the fierce wind last fall not long after Sofia died. I used to live outside in the courtyard, but when Boo came home from the hospital, I moved inside, set the two of us up together on the couch bed, me with my down blankets and two small soft beds for him beside me warmed with heating pads. After he died I just stayed put, ensconced in my perch, and I’ve watched the sun inching north. So, because Boo died, I established myself here in this cozy spot. Because we lost our tree, I have these mountains for companions. Silver linings, here, gifts hidden inside grief. I don’t know how many times I’ve cried in this room since I ended up without my little family and have not yet been able to bring myself back into our shared courtyard without them. But I know at times those tears have come because I feel so grateful for this solace. I can’t imagine any better place for me or more exquisite comfort than this room with the mountains before me, pink clouds near dusk, the winter sun’s clean slanting, healing light, the finches noisy and happy just outside the window. So, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you thank you.
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.
Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “Become big and write with the whole world in your arms.” I love that. I love the way it makes me feel. When I write I am my mother who cleaned the house every Friday when I was little. Daddy brought home Bob’s Big Boy that night for dinner, the combination plates, so she didn’t have to cook. When I write I am my 4th-grade self walking down the hallway in my stepfather’s house in East Granby, Connecticut, when I heard the radio saying Kennedy had been shot. When I write I am big like the San Jacinto mountains that right now are diminished by the smog between us, but I am big like their massive shoulders, big like they are when the air is clean and you think you can reach out and stroke the ridge line like a sleeping bear. When I write I am the African on a crowded raft hoping to reach Italy alive. I am lost treasure at the bottom of the sea beneath him, gold doubloons among the old white bones. When I write I am the breeze that moves across my skin and still cools me in the early summer day. I am the wind that breaks my green umbrella. When I write I hold the field of sunflowers in my arms beside the path to Santiago de Compostela. When I am big I write with Hitler and George Bush (the son) and Glinda from The Wizard of Oz—they are all in my arms. And Toto, too. When I write I am clouds, streetlights, 4711 cologne, Stalin, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg. I hold rain and starlight, yerba maté with coconut milk and honey, exhaust fumes from the diesel truck my neighbor drives, eggshells in the trash wet with the whites I have syphoned off for the egg yolks I fed the cats. When I write I hold you and Aunt Doris and Huckleberry Finn in my arms. I hold myself in my arms. I learn to be tender with myself. When I write, I hold you, too, and try to be honest and kind.
The eastern sky is washed in dark pink, our version of a sunset here, so near the San Jacintos. The clouds stretch north, too, as far as I can see on tiptoe. I am weeding the driveway, but I stop to look. There are two of the huge round kind I have only seen in these skies, big puffy smooshed almost-spirals that look like spaceships. The pink pales, and I go back to pulling weeds until the twilight plays tricks on my eyes. Later I remember I have left my shears sitting in the gravel. When I go back out to get them, I see the new crescent moon beside Venus in the west, a hands breadth above the mountains. I stand still, the dangling shears a weight pulling on my arm, my lips parted. They are surprising and bright above the darkening ridge. Back inside, I grab my laptop to do more work. I am carrying it to the living room when I have the impulse to look for them again. I bend my knees to peer out through the 4-inch slit of open window in my front door. They are still there, shining now through the silhouettes of the Palo Verde branches. I am like a little kid, scrunched down, nose pressed up against the screen. I stand there in the narrow hallway, giddy, computer clutched against my chest, watching the two of them for a long time, magic beings in the night sky.
Thursday morning there is the barest touch of chill to the air. I change my T-shirt for the long-sleeved pink top Mami bought me, the one with the psychedelic swirl of words on the front that she and Auntie Gardi have, too. Mine has big holes at the wrists, and I know I will have to take it off again in less than an hour. But I slide my arms into it, loving its soft suppleness, the pleasure of the fabric covering me against the momentary cold. I am guessing this may be the last time I get to wear it. It is an odd thing, this living in the desert, this craving for cold when the rest of our hemisphere is yearning after warmth. But I am not ready for this to be the last time yet, the last time I pull on a long-sleeved top, the beginning of half a year or more of heat. I count on my fingers, eight months of it if this is truly the last cool morning. (Banish the thought.) I want to stave off summer as long as I can. I relish the cool air through the open sliding glass door. There are big dark polka dots on the pavement, evidence of an attempt to rain before I woke. I sit propped up in bed to write, cozy now in my soft pink shirt. I can smell that first rain smell, moist dirt and concrete. Black clouds hug the San Jacintos, and I hear mockingbirds in the distance, a scattered quartet. I breathe in the new rain smell and smile at our good fortune. Maybe today will be a rare gray day.