9th Grade Lawn

I’ve just been moved from the sun to the clouds,
changed nests and perches, or schools if you like.
I don’t like this one; the ocean stings little toes and there’s
no one to do the splits with or steal a watch from.

There are mean girls on the awn, and even the ones outside of it
have gone to wearing 501s instead of A-Smiles, and I’m out of my element,
so I settle on ice cream for lunch.

At least in class I win at spelling, and my new friends are
right out of a Farmer Ted script, all dirty retainers and some
short blonde boy named Jesse who loves the girl whose
breath stinks and has dandruff.

But I want at that lawn. I want to be able to walk across it,
sit on it after the rain,
claim I’m someone who can be on lawns.

Then I tell my millionaire lie, and it circulates the inner circle.
It gets back to the principal and his inner circle,
and they form a circle to talk about me.

No one asked me why I lied, there are other lawns.
This is the time, I’m sure, that having a lawn, or even a box, is
favorable to the walk home when you’ve been seen outside the lawn.
No arms around you in the fog, and you can’t get on planes anymore
without getting drunk.

Mornings are dreams

I only hear ravens and crows at first light now. Moss has started covering the backyard, like a map of a little forest, sunlight green.

I still get hot flashes, so I roll up my sleeves to release the heat, and it won’t be long before I have to shower the night off me, of sweats and strange dreams and a dog that visits me at 3 am, like clockwork, to crawl under the covers to get warm. I think I smell skunk on his breath, then it passes. We both start running in our sleep.

The day starts easy, with hot water, lemon, and a bit of blinding sun through the window. It seems to always be red. M awakes and goes straight for the espresso, so I close the doors to my cave. I think maybe I’ll fill it with talismans and flowers and more art, then I think not.

My cave is simple: a handful of poetry books, filled journals. My penholder is a small replica of a typewriter, and its one of the only trinkets I like. Above my head is a print of the movie Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, signed by Kim Novak, the artist and main actress in the film. Kim and her doppelgänger take up the right part of the frame, and one of them holds a bouquet of flowers. The doppelgänger is crying, and looks down and away. The other Kim is looking directly at Alfred Hitchcock, who stares back from the far left of the frame. The espresso machine starts to go. I jump a little. I’ve been doing that a lot, especially at night. At every little sound my center reacts.

In the middle of the print, Jimmy Stewart’s character is gripping the top of a building. He’s about to fall, a look of terror on his face. I like this print very much, it’s filled with rage, sadness, terror, and indifference.

I will move through the day slowly, the sun will be out a bit. Maybe I will read a new poem, or read the same ones that always give me comfort. I pull at my growing bangs. Time to wake up.

Seeing

I see color.
~Me

Though I have no illusions that the world revolves around me, I do think that I am spoken to. The words are always there. Sometimes they whisper, sometimes they are loud, but they are always speaking.

I’m in the same boat as everyone else, but thankfully not a large boat off the shore of some unfortunate harbor. I’m not going to name it, though, it’s already been named. It’s some version of the Scottish Play, and let’s just leave it at that. And we’re all staring out, unfortunate actors, waiting for a cue, waiting for the next act.

I had a laugh when this play began, as it was right before I was supposed to embark on some sort of personal journey for three months. Like space was going to be made for me and I would work out all the shit in my life. Oddly, space was made for me, but not in the way that I wanted. Instead, the streets and my neighborhood around me said “have a listen” and “have a look-see.”

And what I heard were birds, and fewer of them. I saw and heard Western Bluebirds, my lonely wrens and sparrows in the bushes, and an eerie calm. And I saw color in my yard – yellow, pink, lavender, and white. White is prettiest as a blooming azalea at dusk, the sky filled with dark clouds.

And so, I thought, this is the space. The world is quieting down to where I can think.

Rose and D

“We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” ~Eeyore

When she was ten, Rose lived near the old lake town, on a single road just across from the road where the willow tree lived. Many years later, Rose would occasionally sing the old story song “Bury me beneath the willow tree,” passed down by the late Almeda Riddle, to remind her of that tree down the road.

Rose lived with her boozy mother in an old apartment, and her brothers and sisters who she sometimes lived with, and sometimes didn’t. They were more like ghosts, she will recall later on. She knew they existed, but they were really never there; just phantoms that appeared and reappeared, with their usual scorn for her, the eighth child.

Rose lived her life by landmarks – the willow tree, the corner grocer, the relics of the old mining town, and a donkey named D in a field across from her apartment.

D was a large donkey with long, untamed fur, and large brown eyes with eyelashes for days. D never wore a halter, and was kind and gentle.

She didn’t visit D every day, only when she thought to. Their relationship was composed of Rose scratching D’s nose if D let her, and if D got tired of that, would saunter back toward the shade.

It was a mutually lonely existence; Rose on the hot cement outside the fence, and D standing in the dead grass on the other side. Whenever Rose approached the fence, D trotted excitedly over to the fence, and then would exhale an unspoken “oh.” The friendship did not yield an escape from the fields, or an apple or two, but it was there, nonetheless.

Feathering the nest

I saw a crow building a nest, I was watching him very carefully, I was kind of stalking him and he was aware of it. And you know what they do when they become aware of someone stalking them when they build a nest, which is a very vulnerable place to be? They build a decoy nest. It’s just for you.

~Tom Waits

I was remarking the other day to the other half that we are so like birds, but so unlike them. Birds make their nest to make a family, but then the young are booted out fairly soon after they are born, (depending on the species), to go live their amazing bird lives. Europeans also enjoy the life of birds. Most spend very little time in the homes they’ve built, as they are out enjoying the surrounding sunshine and trees.

People in the U.S., unless they are as rich as peacocks, stay trapped inside, feathering their nests even when there’s no need for it. They get fatter as they fly less, and more afraid of the unknown. Conversations are stilted, awkward, or a mockingbird’s mimicry. Life doesn’t flow, and the songs aren’t from the heart.

Life hasn’t flowed for me in a long time, but I’m finding my rivers again.

I recently finished feathering my nest; my former room for my parrots was converted to a writing room. It’s minimalist: walls the color of blue hydrangeas, two black chairs (one for reading and one for writing), and a black wooden desk. No art except for a ceramic bird (a nod to all the birds who used to live here), and a Frida Kahlo doll. Eventually there will be a small bed.

It’s peaceful, I love it. It’s just for me. However, I hope I spend very little time in it except when writing. Nature is waiting.

Morning

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

~ Cat Stevens, “Morning Has Broken”

In the morning as light comes through the front window, it’s a piece of art, shaped like little orbs and welcoming a new day. It’s absolutely beautiful.

As I lie, drowsy, I stare up at the ceiling and hear the Bewick’s Wren outside, my new alarm clock. The California Towhee is the syncopation, dotting the wren’s metric.

It fills my heart. My chest expands, and I feel joy. I wish I could lie here forever, and then the crow calls to its family in the park, saying, “it’s time.”

The kitchen window; I see dots on the telephone lines, and I think they are finches. I’m not sure, as my eyes are going.

The dog is not ready. She climbs on to the couch where I’ve been sleeping, and lays her head on my pillow. It’s a perfect Sunday.

Let’s begin again.

 

 

 

Adaptation

I don’t say she’ll have to work around interruptions and invisibility and micro-aggressions and a scarcity of role models and a lifetime of her own conditioning. My job on this panel is to make this place sound good, so I leave some stuff out. Particularly the fact that I’m drinking at least one bottle of wine a night to dissolve the day off of me. – Kristi Coulter, “Enjoli”

This post started out as a bunch of pondering, pontification, and platitudes. There’s nothing worse then someone giving you a life lesson who has had a terrible go navigating her own.

I’ll just cut to the chase; the other day I had a sit-down with someone who speaks in a way so tedious that you feel like you’re enduring a history lesson from the civil war. You have no idea why you’re talking about the civil war or why anyone would think that you cared. As I watched this person float in and out of the realization that they were talking to a person with their own thoughts and perspectives, I too had my own thoughts about how to navigate the conversation, mostly to end it and dig a hole somewhere for me to stick my head in. Just when I think I’ve figured out how people work or I have some key to mapping the course that’s laid before me, the route changes.

A surprising thought came to me after, that birds have been adapting to the changing landscape for 80 million years, and it gave me some comfort, that I wasn’t alone. I even felt some compassion for the “professor,” albeit briefly. I’m no Mister Rogers.

The narrator from the movie “Winged Migration (2003)” says “The story of bird migration is the story of promise – a promise to return.” In one of the more poignant scenes a flock of birds are taking their same 9,000 mile journey, only to land on a large deck of a ship, the usual spot where they would find sustenance, water, or escape the elements for a while. The look on the birds’ faces is heartbreaking; they are so confused and tired as they wander around the ship. I could only watch the movie once.

I hope that in my navigating this earth I return someplace where I am safe, where I know the road home, even if it’s just within myself. I am satisfied that this is my lot, the daily adventure of living.

Fleeting

“The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.” — Leo Buscaglia

Several years ago my sister was murdered by her boyfriend and dumped down a cliff in Kaloloch, Washington State. You can read a little about it here. What’s interesting is that I have no idea who Robert Scott was, but I can tell you this — my sister Robin was never in love with anyone, especially the man who killed her.

Why I keep returning to this memory is beyond me, except that a flock of American Robins have been sitting outside in a sycamore for the past few days. I think they are taking advantage of the worms that have resurfaced from the rains. They are such beautiful birds and every time I see one I say “hello, Robin” as a nod to my sister.

Robin taught me that relationships with the opposite sex are just one of the stories we are given to live by, but the people in those stories aren’t always happy, or make it out alive. When I lived with her I only remembered how sour she was; her big thighs thundering through the house, her head always hung in sorrow on her broad shoulders, or the way she flipped her red hair with her left hand – that nervous tick.

So, I tried to remember some good things about her.

I remembered that she taught me to ride a horse, and when driving a car, how to slow down instead of braking on a curve.

But I was also reminded that life is fleeting, and that you should not wish your days away, and embrace those that lift you up.

Fire escape

Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.

William Shakespeare

Stuck inside. The air is a blanket of nothing but smoke and fog.

California is burning at both ends and I haven’t opened the windows in my house in almost a week. The one day I did go into the office, I took Lyft both ways. The first driver kept staring at me in his rearview mirror. I stared out at the haze, but I could still see the rim of his glasses out of the corner of my eye, and it made me uneasy. I finally figured out he just wanted to chat, but his English sentence construction was so bad, and his car so filthy, that I couldn’t wait to get to work. There’s a first. On the Lyft home, I could tell the driver smoked as his car smelled like an ashtray. My head throbbed.

On the days I’ve been working from home, I leave nuts out for the crows, and a small amount of water in a dish as I know they are all parched. Both the crows and the eastern grey squirrels are getting more bold; they don’t immediately bolt when I get close, as they know I am the purveyor of all the nutty goodness. It’s such a thrill to be that close to a squirrel, only its head peaking over the side of the fence. We have a staring contest that lasts a few seconds, and then it goes back to playing its game of peek-a-boo. It’s a welcome delight that is fleeting.

My hands are so dry. My trees are limp and starting to drop their leaves, but there’s no beauty in it. No moisture to mark the coming of winter. So we wait, and maybe go a little mad. When can we breathe again?

Such strange dreams at night, too, born of anxiety. Last night I dreamt I dipped my feet in a stream, and as I did three fish appeared, and I was happy. Then, one of the fish bit my foot, and as it clung I lifted my foot out of the water. Someone snatches the fish away, its rainbow body writhing, mouth agape. I knew, out of water, the fish would die.

Darkness

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will ensure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring”

Sometimes I sit in my front room and let the darkness envelop me. I don’t watch the sun go down; I let the dark slowly wrap me like a grey blanket. It’s always the same view — the dried out sycamore, the streetlamp that lights it up at night, and the wires that obstruct the view of the airport and the bay.

If I walk my dogs instead, I walk into the dark. Less light makes my neighbors’ colorful doors more vibrant, and dried lawns become desert patches. Before all the stars come out, the sky is a cornflower blue, peppered with stratus clouds.

There are fewer bird calls now, just the sound of the ravens and crows returning to nest in the eucalyptus. If I’m lying on my ancient couch, I tune in to whatever calls I can identify, and let them lull me into a restless sleep filled with strange dreams.

One night I dreamt that I opened my kitchen door to see a lone pigeon staring up at me, with smooth gray feathers and an inquisitive golden eye. I couldn’t bear to close the door, so I woke up instead.

Head…hijacked

“The first — killing the Angel in the House — I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet. The obstacles against her are still immensely powerful — and yet they are very difficult to define.” — Virginia Woolf

Lately I’ve been so up in my own head with work that when I go outside I have to force myself to look at the world. So, I’ve started naming things as I walk…tree, roses, leaf, sign. If I don’t do this my walks are daydreams, lacking so much presence that I have to refocus.

I don’t know what to say today, so I’ll lead off with that. Lately my head has been hijacked by to-do lists and narcissists and the endless opinions about how to deal with narcissists. Kick them in the privates was one piece of good advice.

I’m ideal bait for narcissists and mean people in general. They see my kindness as weakness, and they rent space in my head. I’m always hyper-vigilant, whether there’s a threat or not, but this just compounds it. And I spent most of my waking hours today determining how to deal with it. And just for a few seconds I feel sorry for said people, and then I snap out of that really quick.

Many mental disorders are induced by acute stress or traumatic events. And heap on top of that a lack of community, very little vacation time, and you are a recipe for obesity, physical and mental illness. One of my fun little mental quirks is spartanism — I sometimes get so obsessed with getting rid of things that it becomes compulsive, and I have to CBT my way out of that mess. I’m hoping I don’t end up with a home with no furniture or lights, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

It seems that animal mental illness can be triggered by many of the same factors that unleash mental illness in humans. That includes the loss of family or companions, loss of freedom, stress, trauma, and abuse.

This is most easily seen in animals that are held in captivity. I would argue that many Americans are captive — owned by their phones, their jobs, fear of missing out, and not enough stuff, or the right stuff. Maybe my spartanism is a way to say “you don’t own me,” and yet the compulsion does. Yet, maybe I’m trying to strip away to truth and bone.

I’m not usually referential but I need to explain my Virginia Woolf quote. You see, after reading Rebecca Solnit’s essay that included this quote — it was like a sucker punch, an arrow through the heart. I’ve so wanted to be myself for so long, this quote floored me. I can solve. I can be more than how society defines me, I can just be myself, angel or not. It’s so simple, yet as Virginia Woolf says, the obstacles against us are still immensely powerful.

 

 

The colony

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ~Ray Bradbury, “Dandelion Wine”

Several weeks ago, on the ever-persnickety website Nextdoor, someone freaked out because they had some bees in their backyard.

It’s still beyond me that every question today has to be crowd-sourced, that we don’t trust ourselves enough to do the research on our own. However, the thread turned out to be useful, because shortly after it was posted, a colony of honey bees  moved inside my Catalpa tree, finding a crack in a hollow.

My gardener (David) told me they were there, and that he would be careful with the blower around them because he “fuckin’ doesn’t want to get stung.” As he shared a few other stories of “almost got fuckin’ stung,” a ground squirrel popped his head out of my lawn and David focused his homicidal tendencies toward it, reminiscing about the creative ways he’s killed them. I reminded him that I pay him extra each month to not kill the ground squirrels.

Anyway, back to the bees.

Ever since my friend Tina started beekeeping several years ago I’ve stopped being afraid of honey bees. The few times I sat in her backyard filled with fruit trees, chickens, and bee boxes, I loved the serene way they floated in and out, making their honeycomb. The bees in my tree are no different. In fact, I got very close to the opening and watched them  go in and out for several minutes.

Honey bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers as food for the entire colony, and as they do, they pollinate plants. Nectar stored within their stomachs is passed from one worker to the next until the water within it diminishes. At this point, the nectar becomes honey, which workers store in the cells of the honeycomb.

The one thing that surprised me, though, is that bees don’t live very long, just a few months. And bees that are dying are taken out of the hive by other workers and dropped several feet away.  I’ve watched them clammer back over the dead lawn, only to die on their return, or be eaten by a wasp. One afternoon I watched a wasp eat the body off a honey bee, leaving the head. I have to say I was a bit mortified.