For the way our palo verde flung herself at a diagonal when she blew over in the last fierce wind so she didn’t hurt my neighbor’s carport or our wooden fence, and she didn’t block my front door. The mango and palm trees in pots beneath her felled form came through unscathed. The vet didn’t find an ear infection. Two people have responded to the writer’s guild post about doing spontaneous writing. I’m spending Thanksgiving tomorrow with Mami and Auntie Gardi and her family for the first time ever. I get to choose a new tree to plant, maybe that one I’ve had my eye on with the big pink flowers in the fall. For the bare branches it will have in the winter so I can see the mountains. For the mountains themselves. For my new yoga teacher and the new meditation center I can ride my bike to, sidewalk all the way. For the good headlight on my bike so I feel comfortable riding in the dark. For my zafu. That I finished grading all the summaries and essays late last night, so the next four days sit clear. That cleaning up the shambles of our courtyard after they cut our tree in pieces and took her away had me paring everything back to pure clean beginnings. For time this weekend to put the Christmas solar lights up, lay down a few small pavers, put the sweet finishing touches back in new places, life breathed into it all. For this afternoon when I hauled Boo back to bed with me, and he stayed on my belly and let me pet him for a long time, tears rolling down my face. For the promise of belonging to the sangha, the promise of Sable becoming well again, the promise of a wet winter. For the house finch and the goldfinch at their feeders today in our naked courtyard, flitting, chattering bits of sweetness in the warm, clear day. For the big full moon rising out my shower window in the cold night, water hot against my skin. For you, for me, for words and meaning, for long lives lived well.
I’ve begun taking a yoga class again. I chose the beginning class, and still the first day I felt like a big, heavy weakling. But I didn’t make myself feel bad about it. I am only glad I’ve begun, knowing I’ll get stronger, lighter. I believe that because two decades ago I did yoga for the first time at a retreat. After three days, I felt amazing. I fully inhabited my body for the first time in my life. There was energy between my toes. I haven’t touched that exact feeling since, as though all of my being reached the edges of my skin, but I know it’s possible. I do yoga at home, but I don’t push myself the way I am pushed in a class. I seem to have become better, too, at protecting my back, my hip. I am paying more attention. And when I can’t do something, or it is really hard, I am not beating myself up. These two changes alone are immense, gratifying. Add working in the yoga studio full of clean autumn light with a teacher who emphasizes the spiritual aspects of the practice—well, it becomes almost more than I can hold. I can feel it moving against my breast bone, and I remember yesterday I learned I push my ribs out too far. I need to move my heart forward. And so I will.
We are asked to choose one thing in our day and commit to doing it mindfully. I pick drinking my tea. I have begun to drink dong quai and wild yam with honey and coconut oil. Today I stand beside the sink preparing it. I forget the strainer and pour all the loose pieces of the roots into the waiting cup with the honey and oil. I have to laugh. It’s a good thing I chose drinking the tea and not making it, I think. I stir up the mess and strain it into a fresh cup, then carry it out to the courtyard. It takes up so many senses, so at first it seems easy to stay present, to savor it. The dong quai and the wild yam are bitter roots, the honey and coconut oil both sweet—blended the flavor is a weird and lovely combination of the two tastes. My body seems to crave it. I lean over the cup to inhale the earthy fragrance, the warm ceramic bowl of it cradled in my palms. My mind wanders more than once. I bring it back, sip my tea. I hear the goldfinch chattering. The sun sits just above the mountain ridge, the last sunlight in the late afternoon. I think next week I will choose a different thing, so I can just come and go while I drink my tea, let my mind wander where it will, untethered.
My day of the dead unfolded without effort, my altar growing little by little over the past week, my ritual organic and unplanned. I bought a big bunch of orange marigolds at the farmers market, and yesterday I plucked them from their stems, added them to the altar. Now it is a living, breathing thing beside me, candles at the heart of it. I wish I could let you see it the way I see it. The changing light adds a kind of sharpness, a clarity. It makes the colors dazzle, the flames dance. Every time I look at it it makes my heart dance, too. I have a big grin on my face, and I feel so lucky I could burst. And the smell—that spicy, earthy scent. I won’t need food if I can just keep breathing it in. Sunday in the late dusk I watered the plants here in the courtyard, went through the long list of my dead. They’d been coming to me bit by bit, but this time I started at the beginning, worked my way through each one in order, from my dog Grunt and my Oma almost 50 years ago to my cat Sofia, my newest dead. I ended up standing in the dark beside the glowing altar talking to each one, wanting them to know they are well loved and well missed, asking for blessings on them at this time when the veil between the worlds is thin, midway through these months when the moon holds sway. Today while I write a bee comes to grace the altar, touching each blossom in turn, messenger of the gods. Feliz día de los muertos. Happy turning of the wheel.
I am sitting at the Amtrak station when I know I am only one of Sable’s sleek black whisker’s width away from fully committing myself to November’s national novel-writing month. My stomach clenches at the thought. It terrifies me. 50,000 words in 30 days means 1,666.66666 words per day and 6.66666667 pages (of 250 words per page). My quick work on the calculator hooks me in even more. No Satanic inklings here, only the magic of these sequences of sixes, of forward progress–and how, hmm? If I write 7 pages per day, I’ll have written 210 pages by the end of the month. And maybe I’ll throw my hat in the ring for that young adult novel contest, after all. Last week I entered a different book contest, and, counting this young adult contest, I plan now to enter three more this week. I keep the pen moving across the page and remember to pull in air. I can still feel the tightness in my belly, more thrill than fear now, though the balance is close. I feel it in my bones, in the sun on my back, in my pleasure in the conversation I am overhearing part in English and part in Spanish, the fluid back and forth, the “I love you” when they part, father and daughter, I think. I feel in my fear and my thrill I may be truly ready to have my work win one or more of these book contests. If I submit the different pieces I have in mind I could win three of the four contests. I want to laugh out loud, but I keep writing. I am ready to burst out into the literary world with these winnings and the published books. I am ready to take the world by storm or in a swirling rush of wings, the sudden whoosh of the slow, deep strokes of a raven overhead, the feathery brush of angels, my breath easy now in my chest, heart light with hope, mouth full of magic.
Today I had the great honor and gift of taking a class titled “Ways Poetry Can Enliven, Illuminate, and Improve Your Prose” with poet and professor Julie Paegle. At one point, she gave us each a poem on a small sheet of paper that we can carry with us out in the world to memorize. Mine was “The Reassurance” by Thom Gunn. (I think it may have been her intention or prayer to participate with the universe when she handed them out. Each one was different, and more than one person said she must be psychic.) In one exercise we were told to read the poem she picked for us, choose something we loved or hated about it and take that with us into a poem we wrote ourselves. This is the poem that came to me.
the first time you came back
after you died.
We were sitting
outside a prison
at a round stone picnic table
near a chain link fence.
“What are you doing here?
You’re supposed to be dead.”
I remember waking up
still shocked by your presence
not sure if I was glad
to know you could appear like that
anytime you wanted.
In the early morning I am in and out of sleep, my restless, uncomfortable cat up and down and in my face, yowling, wanting me to fix him. I wake up angry with my helplessness, but I don’t realize it yet. Later in the day I will sit on the living room floor and cry, chin propped on my knees, until it all seeps out of me. But in the morning I am grouchy and don’t know why. I ride my bike to the farmer’s market. The air is not yet hot, the mountains clear and present. I think how idyllic it is, but it doesn’t touch me. I hear a clicking sound, something stuck in my front wheel. I stop, pick a thorn out of the tire. It hasn’t punctured it. I stand there straddling my bike, and a mockingbird begins to sing in a nearby fan palm. It is the first one I have heard in months. I take in my favorite pointy mountain to the south, the clean air, clouds to the west. I feel grateful to the universe for stopping me like this, for breaking me out of my grumpy out of sorts-ness, for letting me stand there on the bike path listening to this first mockingbird’s song and becoming a part of the day.