To get used to: the reading glasses, the hair I no longer wear long, the too-red fingernails. But there is the birthday necklace, tea in a white pot, the exposed brick wall. When I was 27 I sat in an Asheville cafe with my boyfriend, bagels and coffee likely before us. We were so young. At the next table a couple, early 60s, sat reading the New York Times, glancing up occasionally to share something of note, to sip coffee. They held themselves with an easy comfort. Someday that will be us, I said to my boyfriend, and he smiled back at me. It was never us. But somehow it became me anyway, and across the table the right sweet guy reading too.
June 28, 2015
Which is not Papa Germano’s in a three-bed room, or her dorm in Brighton where I showed up basically unannounced and stayed for days. Which is not a visit in Evanston or London or San Francisco. Which is not hiking through Muir Woods in her big plaid fleece and rolling my jeans at Stinson Beach to walk through tide pools. Neither is it New Year’s Eve 2000 in her Noe Valley apartment or the weeks before her wedding when we painted metal buckets at my tiny Austin house then planted them with flowers. The deck tonight was not the Ojai hillside where she and Pat married and I read a poem, nor is it a rainy hike in Estes Park. It’s not filling compost bags at the Natural Gardener and then hauling back to my house, not rolling in the grass at Zilker, not tucking petunias into a few final pots for the tables at my wedding. It’s not Florence on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s not an Osteria in Denver. It’s not an Austin coffeehouse sipping cafe au lait under the oaks. It’s this one night in a long friendship, a night in which we pulled steak from skewers and I blew out candles on a birthday cake and we all talked a long time and then L climbed into her lap and said, “I’m tired.”
June 26. 2015
Instead, a smattering of what life has brought my way. An old friend in front of an old painting. A wedding, a message, and century plants towering against a stormy sky.
Meanwhile, back home, the daily continues. We shave and brush and swab and spread. We read Nora Ephron’s prescriptions of marriage, shared by a friend in a wedding card. We fail to sit on the living room furniture and fail to sell it on Craigslist. (Vintage rattan could be yours.) And the CSA basket keeps coming and cornichons go into vinegar and pickling spices and we can’t stop eating them.
In Austin the rents still rise and a few places, against the odds, keep the faith.
And, finally, a spin through Waco on the way home. A wedding ring store leaves me with far too much to say.
So unlikely we’d be there, in a Presbyterian church community room on a Friday night in Dallas. So unlikely we’d find them there, three Austin singer songwriters with their guitars and lyrics. So perfect to sit at a table covered in blue cloth sipping herbal tea and listening. So grateful when Michael Fracasso played our song and my heart swelled in my chest to hear it.
June 19, 2015
I was awoken, to start with, by one phone after another blaring flash flood warnings at 6:15am. Rain, when the plans included a walk with a friend. But our breakfast was delightful, the highlight of a day that wasn’t big on highlights. Then jumpstarting a car. Cleaning mold off the car seats, swatting mosquitoes. Conflict. Cleaning out the fridge. Tightening the sun visor screws. Trying to make the internet router cooperate beneath the old chair. Returning the almond milk, then buying it back again when it’s clear they will throw it away. Droopy dinner and evening on the couch. And then, before bed, giving the counters a final wipe down, I knock a full container of blueberries into the black hole between the counter and stove. As I dug them out of the dusty dark, watching them roll beneath the stove that Chris lifted with a heave, I thought it was time to put Sunday this Sunday to rest.
June 14, 2015
We strung the balloons. We filled the coolers with ice. We laid out plates and forks and weighted the napkins under bottles of ketchup. We cleared enough books from the shelves that nothing is left stacked, and we laid them on end on a table for choosing. We bought hot dogs sealed in plastic and sunscreen and insect repellent. We greeted Michael in his orange hat and watched him pile charcoal in a chimney for the grill. We waited. They came. They came with children and dogs and sisters and cousins. They came with memories and nervousness and for a quick spin or the whole day. They looked for people they knew. They hugged us hello and hugged us goodbye. Their children played in the water and came back slick and cool. The sun climbed high in the sky and the temperatures rose. The park grew busy and full. The hotdogs were eaten, one by one. We packed up. We thanked our volunteers, left behind a few cakes for the group behind us. We retreated to the air conditioning. We counted our numbers. We slept.
June 13, 2015
On Monday we smashed potatoes and then roasted them in duck fat until they were browned and crisp. On Wednesday the squash blossoms were so beautiful I had to lay them out for a picture. The frittata sang of yellow. On Friday I sliced cucumbers thin and laid them beside French beans, sliced tomatoes, and purple potatoes. At all there were olives, manchego on a bamboo board, the pickles I made from last week’s cornichons. At all there was conversation around the yellow table with friends I was happy to see. It must be summer break, with dinner at the house and no place else I am supposed to be.
June 12, 2015
Behind the knife shop, where chain mail stands by the door, are the targets. Practice your skills — throw and land, throw and land. Next door, the The Pit. Across the street at Maru, tilting toward the sidewalk, they call Chris a “faithful customer.” Add a bow. Then change your angle. You’re sipping a Barolo at a wine bar over oysters. You’re eating a taco with chili aoili swirled artistically over the top. You’re admiring what the architect has done with this space that used to be so humble.
June 6, 2015
It’s been a decade or more since the house next door was sold, then demolished. The lot was left fallow and empty, then a gigantic new duplex framed and built and landscaped and polished. This cat belonged to the old house, a blue ranch we’ve mostly forgotten. We didn’t know the neighbors, but their dog would climb stairs to the roof and bark at us from on high. The cat, though, the cat stayed behind and began prowling the neighborhood. It grew wild and mangey. It grew skinny and fierce. For years it showed up on our back porch and Chris put out food, water. It wouldn’t come close. One time Chris thought he saw it dead on the side of the road. He picked it up, put it amid the wild plants, grieved. A few weeks later it was back on the porch, peering at us through the window. This cat keeps going, through ice storms and flood warnings and the hottest summer in Texas history. Through construction projects and police helicopters and the dense traffic of Riverside Drive. It hasn’t come around our house for years, but we still see it down by the Bazaar, another place that has survived despite its unlikelihood. Here it is again, with its off-kilter gait and tuft of white and fur growing back in patches. This cat, so long a source of sadness, has now earned our respect. In fact, you might even call it awe.
June 4, 2015
I taped the poem there so long ago I forget it, though I open that cabinet door daily to grab a plate, a glass, a ramekin. Before you know what kindness really is / you must lose things. In this room where so much of life happens, where we land in the morning and in the evening, often in between, where we discuss schedules and finances and the finale of Mad Men. You must see how this could be you, / how he too was someone / who journeyed through the night with plans… I believe in poems in pockets, poems pasted into the covers of daily planners, poems on cards pinned to bulletin boards. I believe in poems wherever we place them, wherever we find them. Feel the future dissolve in an moment / like salt in a weakened broth. I taped this one in the kitchen cabinet because it was the one we needed, would still need, would always need as we went forth as human beings trying to make our way in the world. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. I taped it there to remind us when we would inevitably forget.
June 2, 2015
Read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness” here.