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
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
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
How you return to it and find the life you were living then — two weeks, two months, two years ago. A time between losses, you said, and within minutes your family erupted and loss of a different kind came at you. And here you are. It is 6am. The week is beginning, a week in which you have so much to do. Then pen you use is the same, the notebook peeled back to reveal more blank pages to fill. What was it you intended to say?
July 6, 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
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