You don’t know where you’ll find the exotic. At the ball fields, empty on an August Sunday morning, a clatter. Look up. On the backstop, where hundreds of fly balls have bounced away toward the field, parrots. We lean against the fence like anxious parents at a game. We watch.
August 30, 2015
Mostly we saw her like this — through the crepe myrtles tending the pool that no one swam in. It shone blue past the fence, a filter occasionally spraying a jet into the air. Come over any time, she said when we moved in. We never did. But we waved through the trees, talked in driveways, rolled down car windows when passing by. Then a neighbor banged on the door, Mrs. Duckworth has died. Emergency vehicles swarmed the corner. Her son found her by the pool. She fell last night. I keep thinking of her lying there while our a/c unit clicked on and off all night, while the traffic on Riverside roared and we fed the cats and checked the doors and cleared the last crumbs from the fudgy chocolate hearts I bought for a friend’s birthday. We didn’t know. Don’t think about it, says the neighbor. After we finished talking on the porch, we went back to our days. Chris to his nap, me to my crossword, the neighbor to whatever was waiting for her at home. What else should we have done? I thought of the time I came back after a month away and she called over the fence, I missed you! I thought you had left. It was sweet. It was nosy. I got up and stood by the back door. Gloved men paced around her pool, collecting evidence. Then they pulled away, cars filing down the street. The water was the same blue as ever. On Riverside, people got on or off the bus. I sliced some potatoes into a bowl. Someday it will be me without whom the world goes on.
August 23, 2015
Sixteen years ago this week I was unpacking boxes in my first Austin apartment after U-Hauling it from Ohio with my friend Cynthia. There was a Nissan Sentra hitched to the back and the man who hooked it up said, “From here out out, there is no backing up.” I drove away from Cincinnati in a Rosie the Riveter t-shirt and with no idea what I was heading toward. We crossed into Kentucky and Tennessee, saw the Mississippi running below the bridge and commented on the bad roads in Arkansas. And then I was in the state I’d call home for decades to come. On August 12 I wrote in my journal, “My mind of late is on setting up house, and on bugs. Things flying and buzzing and crawling in this house. Welcome to Texas.” I’m amazed I made it this far.
The photo is from my Cincinnati going-away party, where I was given a cake in the shape of Texas. Really and truly, I’d never felt so special.
August 13, 2015
I knew nothing of Sirius, Orion’s dog, when I climbed into my car after an afternoon meeting and thought dog days. If the stars are revealing themselves at sunrise, though it is the only time to get out there and move, I was unaware. I only knew that there was for a long time a kind of faith in altered weather. Spring into summer and it rained and rained and things grew tall and deep green. This was, the Austin people hinted, how it had once been here. Mild. Steamy. Shaded. But it was myth, the belief that we could return to another time when August didn’t scorch. Our fig tree is dangling its last leaves, the grass turned crisp. And maybe Homer had it right:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
August 12, 2015
Make yourself into a tree, into branches and wind and leaves, into safety and sturdiness. If I am ever less than a mountain, writes Lucille Clifton, a phrase I hear again and again when I ask applicants to read aloud. Make yourself into a mountain, into forest, into something that carries on after yourself. My tree, says the girl in the play, my tree that was here before me. Spread your fingers wide. Clamor and call. Sway in the wind. Howl. When you walk across the floor, the pottery on the shelf rattles. Floors made of trees here before you were, pottery made with hands here before you were. Make yourself into a tree. Leaf. Rings. Spotlight. Applause.
August 6, 2015
All those dance lessons have mostly shown us how far we are from being good dancers. The system is set up to get you to learn more, learn more, learn more. Shift from level 1 to level 2, from level 2 to level 3. Adopt the clothes, the culture. Add a move, a styling, a shift of weight you hadn’t tried. And then Saturday night we went to the Whitehorse and danced to a honky tonk band. This is what we wanted all along. A little two step, a little swing, my purse whipping dangerously around my body when I spun. The floor was concrete, the crowd mixed, and we danced all that we wanted to. We danced just fine.
July 18, 2015
I don’t know any of them, the writers who show up early Sunday morning for a day of practice around the folding tables of the Writing Barn. They are drafting picture books and novels, dissertations and short stories. All morning the keyboards rattle gently and occasionally the doors squeal to shatter the silence. We stay at it, lunch under ceiling fans on the porch, return. Outside, I walk a circle down limestone gravel paths, under live oaks hung with chandeliers, past funky chairs. Once more Austin steps forward to greet me before sending me back into the world.
July 12, 2015
On Saturday night we sat in folding chairs beneath the trees while Strings Attached adapted the Beatles to South Austin. A little Texas Swing. A bit of Latin. A full complement of voice and instrument and heart, so much heart. We gathered in the front yard, all around us camp chairs and bug spray and tank tops, regulars settling in and kicking off their sandals. A woman in a head wrap offered massages on a portable table. People danced in the margins in their long skirts. Once there was a way / to get back homeward, they sang. Once their was a way / to get back home. Everything scruffy and overgrown, the barefoot child swept up into so many arms. This is a place I once knew. This is where Austin went when we weren’t looking.
July 11, 2015
Wherever you look, another pathway inviting your feet, another sidewalk, cracked or not, another street to cross after double checking both ways. Three miles one direction, three miles the other. Up the steep hill toward Travis Heights, how the slope slows you, reminds you your legs were once stronger. Pride of Barbados a shock of brightness. On the other side of the street, a girl who once sat for your cat doesn’t notice you. Waiting for the beep. Choosing the shade. A suit of armor painted red in a backyard. A giant wooden chicken by the front door. Shrimp plant. Old marquee. Drifting scent of pizza. The curly-haired cyclist with the basket on her bike passes you both ways. Does she ride this street all day? Let me know.
July 6, 2015
It’s one of the gifts of summer: late strolls after dinner, the air still warm but not seething with heat, the smattering of joggers and unicycle riders and Latino families with children leaning to look for fish in the water. It stays light far past when we expect it to, and downtown looks impressive, shiny and aglow. We live here. So often we complain: the traffic, the prices, the scruffy city we fell in love with transformed into something else. But didn’t we fall for each other when we both lived in tiny apartments and mouthed off about simplicity, paring down, though for a decade we have had 2200 square feet and squabbles over the lawn? We can’t spend forever on the sagging deck of a coffeehouse listening to Guy Forsyth strum his guitar. Sometimes we turn and are struck anew with delight for our midlife selves dressed in the better clothes that midlife allows. And so our city too, offering a different kind of impressive while we saunter along, the day mostly behind us, rail lights illuminating the way toward home.
July 5, 2015