Hot roasted chestnuts from Benji at the gates.
Thirteen years of normal girl memory: a before.
Ramojah’s tiger eye, open even as he dozes.
Novels and other tunnels.
Candles that smell of home.
The payphone ringing home.
A hearth, a shedding cat, a boyfaced man, and a cupboard full of brushes.
An hour more of dark before dawn. Asleep. But now the alarm, the toilet, cold water splashed on my face, somehow into pants and shirt, gathering ingredients of the day–bag, lunch, key– okay– and I’m down. Wedged in the couch warm in the sweater, the pet rat’s tiny heart pulses with contentment, nested by my big slow heart. Can’t stay here, we can’t stay like this for long– but not yet, not yet to go and be human. It’s two minutes free of any presence of mind, just me and the other animal, tired and awake and breathing here now. And in the marrow of my bones, I thank God for stupor.
They’re singing and speaking all the same words and outside trains pass, sound like cannons, thunderclaps, giants clanking armor. They’re blessing a little girl, pouring warm water over her ears and smearing oil over her brow and through the window bums do a Sunday morning stumble as sunshine burns off the last alcohol. They’re biting at the bread of life and sipping together their spiritual drink in the old white building unremarkable off Toole Street, unrecognizable as churchly, dedicated, even inhabited. The trains and the prayers disperse, as afterwards do the people, mingling with the sun and the bums, in the middle of it, smiling and trying and fallible and real.
A walk-taker in a woolen Scottish cap greets me not with a chin tilt and a blink, but with a full-armed wave and a noisy hello. An old lady appreciates the mid-afternoon sunset and flecks of gold and flamingo pink dance in her eyes. People buy wasabi, cayenne, and fractals of ginger; they sweat at their kitchen tables. Dogs, predictably, leap at the abundance of dead things to smell and dig. Artists putter in their garages at night, warmed by concentration. So we know that the advancing winter doesn’t shadow northern spirits– no, we take it as a dare to burn on. And in the small window of a house that the south-clinging sun barely touches, a net of Christmas lights glows, all hours, despite rising electricity bills: a galaxy more luminous with each darkening hour.
In the neighborhood, unadvertised, is a humble but high fence of painted brown wood. When I first passed it, two painted ceramic tablets hung there, shining in sunlight filtered through the trees, and a small sign declared: TO AVOID NEGATIVE KARMA, REPLACE ANYTHING YOU TAKE WITH AN OBJECT OF EQUAL OR GREATER AESTHETIC VALUE. Soon one tablet disappeared, then the other, and other orphans appeared in their place. Watercolors, oils, coloring book pages, some framed and some bared, melting in the rain, curling in the wind. One afternoon I offered a black-and-white horse from my pen, and looked to take in exchange. It was then that I realized that any piece there is, to me, of greater value than any I could offer: such art is not only art, but also a mystery, and mystery is a treasure beyond value, aesthetic or otherwise. Still, I took one, unsigned and aqueous, blue and green, a mystery in markers on laminated paper. I will take my chances with the karma.
There are tumbleweeds in the streets of this city. One was lodged forcefully by the wind under the front fender of a parked car on 3rd Street. I swerved to avoid another while cycling to work. Near collisions, in this case between metro and Wild West, are pleasurable: no harm done, but you still get to imagine the bicycle speeding onward with a starchy, spherical, fiercely rasping spoke ornament.