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
You look at the week ahead like a patch of ice you will cross but not without sliding a lot, not without a stumble, a fall, a spin that takes you in the wrong direction. And not without looking upward to be dazzled by the scenery. But focus. Balance carefully. Look ahead. Students and registration and phone calls and pizza and stacks of books and rosters and child care and parking. Somewhere in the midst of it, writing and exercise and eating. You care a lot about eating. So you head out early Sunday to the store and spend the afternoon listening to podcasts while you chop and stir and simmer. Veggie stew. Vats of salad. Jerk marinade. You ponder containers for carrying it all, seek the missing cap for the water bottle. Then fill a canister with granola, this one cooked with only nuts, toasting on low heat until the house smells golden. If you’re lucky, it will fuel you to the other side.
August 16, 2015
To get to the pool, race past the boy in the superhero swim trunks. Carry your purse in the crook of your elbow, goggles and nose clip and a whole package of bandaids inside. Look both ways. Watch for reversing cars. The cow with the long eyelashes propped in the yard is so last month, why even mention it? While your mother finds a chair in the shade, sprint to the water. In! In! Until the lifeguard’s whistle means it’s time to get out. In the kiddie pool, the hose is for battles. Crimp and explode until your mother says stop or you’ll have to go home. You are smeared with sunblock and schooled in how to keep water from your goggles. Even the shallow end is still too deep, so daddy stays close. The diving board was fun until you did a double bounce and then it was terrible. Terrible! You want the orange noodle, not the blue, a squirt of ketchup on your hotdog from your Uncle Rene. But you leave it on the table and leap back into the water. You will swim and swim chasing your cousin Lala who is taller and more thoughtful and all the way from California and who will save you if you go too far. Back home there’s a hula hoop and Incredible Hulk hands and a diary you would write your greatest wishes in if only you knew how to write. Lighter fluid drifts sharply to your nose, Pharrell’s “Happy” to your ears. Someday these Sundays will fade, become one giant day at the pool in which you ran and leapt and splashed and someone’s football sailed over your head and the noodle you wanted was always yours and parents bounced babies and told long stories and the water was only invitation. One more jump before you go. No, wait, just one more. And then you walk home, towel thrown over your shoulders, learning the gifts of the shady side of the street.
August 9, 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
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
“Everyone deserves a chance to walk with everyone else.” — “Hero,” Family of the Year
I spend my third day wandering and remembering how wandering connects me to my creativity. Seven miles in and around the city, past the crowds and down quiet pathways. Out the boardwalk and into the city center, onto a stool at the counter of a loud diner where I read The Sun and drink coffee. Into a store or two and back out, down past the construction cranes. Then I sit with a watermelon agua fresca at the cafe of the disgraced cycling star and the story begins to come. It’s like it was when I was a graduate student, me and my notebook and a table somewhere with the music I didn’t choose piped in above. Words on paper that might become something. On a Sunday afternoon in almost-summer Austin, I am one of many women in a tank top and skirt, cap on my head, women on bikes and on foot and walking with daughters wearing the same outfits. We have somewhere to go, or nowhere to go. Later, on the Congress bridge, I help two older tourists find their way to a CVS. I walk past so much of my history up on the hill and through the streets of Travis Heights. Back home I lie on my bed, cats at my feet, looking for the first time at the paper. I’m not ready for the book review, for all the novels I may or may not read this summer.
May 31, 2015
Occasionally, it happens: the moment I would like to freeze, to stay inside for good. If this was all there was, it would be enough. Sunday, reading on the deck, the day breezy but mild, jasmine climbing the purple wall. Enough. Of course, soon Chris was late getting home from a mis-timed movie and I worried he’d died on the highway, and soon I was on the highway myself, off to a dance lesson where I am learning to stand tall above my own feet when I turn. Mortality has been on my mind lately–my own, those I love. I don’t want to live braced for disaster when there is no disaster. Here. Enough. A time between losses, as my friend wrote in a poem years ago, a poem I have carried inside me. This week I learn of her own deep loss. This week I am between. By evening we were on the deck again, eating white beans with roasted fennel and tomatoes. Chris noted the bugs eating the tree, the ladder propped against the wall for the leaves he didn’t clear from the roof. Come back, I say. Here. Between. Everything as green as it will ever be.
May 3, 2015
After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. — Philip Pullman
In front of the wood wall at Malvern Books, they brought their stories. The girl next door seen anew. A pit bull in the back yard. A return to Antibes. Two sisters and their swagger. A photo of a father. Daddy, cleaned up and beloved. Poodles and a Mercedes Benz, elders in song. Praise the courage to stand up and say your truth. Praise the audience overflowing the chairs. Praise laughter and listening and cheese cubes eaten from toothpicks. Praise the thoughtful way Charlotte affirmed those stories for all of us. Praise community, generations, the tinkering with a phrase to get it right.
April 19, 2015
The women walked in shirts printed with “In Memory of David” on the back. His face, his uniform, in color. All those walkers and runners wove through and continued on. Praise the woman who paused beside them and said, “I am sorry for your loss.” Praise the questions she asked — where was he, was it his first deployment, how long has it been? Tens of thousands of us cruised past that starting line, the gate and Texas flag, in modest clothes and impressive costumes. We noted the fog shrouding the Capitol, the strength of our legs, the hills we never noticed in our cars. We cheered for the high school band playing under Mopac and the singer songwriter on Cesar Chavez. I was so happy I texted Chris to tell him he needed to come next year. It was fun, so fun. But praise those women and the overheard moment. Praise the dignity of pausing to ask. Praise what we carry with us, sometimes on apparent, sometimes not.
April 12, 2015
At church, they hand out the palms. Fronds for some, long, thin leaves for others. Judas plants the kiss on Christ once again. Peter denies him. Pilate prepares to wash his hands. The congregation–that is us–yells “Crucify him!” And we file out silently, placing paper programs into the recycle pile, carrying our leaves of palm. I grab two extra. Wildflowers at the edges of the parking lot are unstoppably bright. At home, I offer a palm to Chris. He shapes it into a cross and slips it under a magnet on the fridge.
March 29, 2015