We couldn’t have known, has become the refrain, We couldn’t have known in February, last year, five years ago when we took a birthday photo of me in a brick-walled cafe, Sunday Times open. We live now in a world we couldn’t have known was waiting for us. Last night my friends wore masks as they rushed across the backyard in the rain to the deck, where we’d set up a distanced spot for them to sit, carrot cupcakes still in their bakery box, Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer set neatly to the side. Of the masks they gifted me, tied with a ribbon, they said it was a joke. There was still a bottle of Napa red, flowers wrapped in tissue paper, a candle, a song. But we know I am not just entering a new year, but continuing the long one we are all trapped in–distance, fabric, time apart. Microfiber masks soaking in a sink. And the question of how we will use this sudden expanse of time consistently and wisely.
She bends to the keyboard, playing a composition of her own called “The Sweetest Love.” He accompanies, barely contained in the role. The cascade of her curls. The speed of his fingers. The way she casts an eye at him and he at her and the music turns, pauses, continues. Perfect time, Chris says, and no percussion. I gave up Pics and Paragraphs awhile back, moving on with the idea that these little pieces should become something else – poems, a book, a springboard. Maybe. The world kept changing. Donald Trump. Leaving my job. A legislative season spent wincing at the news. There is so much to think about, so much that needs writing. But then tonight, the room more empty than full, the music so alive. (What happened there would never happen the same way again.) I missed this small undertaking, this attempt to give word and image to the unexpected and the daily.
This is Texas, after all. My friend, a screenwriter, once wrote a scene in which a character in a small Texas town can’t figure out which white truck is his, trying door after door. Around the table in Hollywood, the producers didn’t get the joke. And now it’s too late for that joke, all the truck drivers pressing their automatic locks, the beeping and flashing leading the way. Today it was almost too late for me too, a white truck gunning it past my shoulder as I crossed South Congress. So close the strangers behind me gasped aloud. So close I reared back and adrenaline flushed my body. White truck, my life is still worth more than your rush. White truck, if you’d taken it slowly you’d have seen, further up the road, a house where the artists made all the eyes doubled.
January 12, 2016
Watching a friend’s cat, I let myself in, find the pans hung in their same places, the lights of the wi-fi still twinkling. There is something in the smooth surfaces of someone else’s table, the soft fluff of someone else’s cat with her petite head nudging my hand. Her neediness is not the neediness of my own pets, this mail not my mail to be sorted and dealt with. Nothing new gets added to my lists between these walls. I could sit all night reading a magazine in the brown chair, cat brushing again past my legs. Then later, at another house, a pile of shredded manchego waits, a wooden spoon we take turns using to stir the risotto. The sausage a gift from a friend I don’t know, have no need to thank. I could take a week off just to sort through my home, its piles, its unclipped price tags. But in other people’s homes, nothing is left undone. Over time the rice plumps perfectly. And if the lock sticks as I’m leaving, I don’t mind. Just jiggle it closed and move on.
December 28, 2015
When I went to bed last night it was 75 degrees out. When I woke this morning it was 48, windows downstairs fogged to opaque. The day changes as the year does, dramatically, when you aren’t looking. I ate kale on New Year’s Day in a Belgian cafe in Greenwich Village. I ate Italian sausage at our dining room table last night, broccoli rabe with a ton of garlic, windows open to the breeze. Luna made a seamless run from window sill to Andrew’s lap. And 2015 leans toward its close. Practice. Reverence. Play. I began there. Two hundred pages later we dance to Vince Guaraldi while waiting for dinner guests. I weep to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in church on Christmas morning. Someone shit in the stairwell we took from the parking lot. Everything happening imperfectly. But 2015, it was a good year, in its grace and its improbabilities. Coyotes howled to sirens behind the fence. Cosmos bloomed at Christmas in the yard. I stood on a roll of white paper for a photo. You can’t predict. You can only pay attention. And most this year I did. I did.
December 27, 2015
It is the distance of diesel fumes sharp on the nose in the morning, the distance of grela growing on tall stalks beside houses. Spain, Spain is an espresso cup stacked and waiting, milk in square boxes. For days we walked in Galicia where the corn was harvested, only the darkest, sweetest grapes still waiting on the vine. Mist and eucalyptus and the tapping of my sticks on the road. This is a different Spain than the one that gave us gorgonzola and apple croquettes on a bustling square in Madrid. Old women in smocks stood with shovels in hand, dogs didn’t raise their heads when we passed. So many chickens. If I could I would return to the small bar where they made us a fresh tortilla and a table of Spandex-clad cyclists stepped away to reveal leaning men at the counter sipping coffee. I’d walk again down the giant hill past white goats, away from the hotel where they served us greens from a can. Dawn breaking, a bakery a half hour away already stacking their plates with pound cake and chocolate donuts. How much sugar can a morning contain? How much sweetness? Spain is green olives, toasted bread spread with tomato. It is Roman Road XIX winding us through pine trees and over fast rivers. How rounded the stones. Vermouth on tap. Another dinner at an empty restaurant while the locals wait, wait. It is a shuttered afternoon that opens onto evening clatter, so many people talking on benches, such a long way from this quiet couch in the morning.
October 20, 2015
Whichever way you come, it’s a long way to Santiago. Hills and high roads and all the varieties of water running beside the path. Sheep and goats and horses and ponies, a burro, a black pig, chickens and chickens and chickens. Dogs who don’t care. Dogs who do. Cobblestone and roman road and highway and driveway and asphalt and dirt path and back roads rutted with mud and pine matted forest floor. Wherever home is, it is far away, the concerns of the day more primary — food and feet, rain, the next yellow arrow and the next. A year after my first Camino I walked with my love, surprised to find us tromping the last kilometers past business women and school kids in the Santiago afternoon, then reuniting with those we’d met on the plaza. We all stared up at the cathedral, still partly shrouded in scaffolding, but waiting here all along.
October 14, 2015
Padron to Santiago
There is a rhythm that comes — not in the first steps or maybe in the first days — pole foot foot pole foot foot – a rhythm that is the sound of your own body moving itself through your own life. You can only go forward. Pine needles under your shoes, shadow of trees. Asphalt and fast cars and glimpses of wild mint in the ditch. Pathway empty and waiting. There is a line between figuring it out and following the arrows where they point you. Pole foot foot pole foot foot. Catch a glimpse of what’s ahead. Keep going.
October 12, 2015
Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis
And the trees drip and the roads run with little rivers and the mud gets slick and there is no place to go. For a bit a group of us huddled in the tiny chapel of Santa Martina but then we stepped back into it again. Packs covered, shirts getting wet, we took the detour to the trail beside the creek. Clear water rippling with raindrops, forest floor matted and damp. Every now and then we would stop and grin at each other, hair pasted to our heads. Soon enough we would be dry again. For most of our life would we be dry. About that we were sure.
October 10, 2015
As Chivas to Pontevedra