750words March 24 2015 ~ Punch Cards and Angels

Earlier today I read a blog post by Ken Decroo (Baja Moto Quest) about a dear friend Ken had lost to cancer and I started thinking about losses and the blanks those who go leave behind, like punched holes in a ticket or those cards stores hand out where there’s maybe twelve numbers and when all twelve are punched you get a free skein of yarn at the knitting store, or a free carton of smokes at the cigarette store, or a big discount on whatever at wherever.

Is my life like one of those cards? A thin, glossy rectangle imprinted with the colors of people who made me (genetically) and teachers who taught me (trained this brain) and friends who have held me and allowed me to hold them (song sharers, happy and sad). Is my life like that? And each time one goes, leaves this world behind … each time one dies, this small flat rectangular card of my life gets a hole punched?

Two years from now I’ll be seventy. The grandmas and grandpas are gone. Mom and dad are gone. Dozens of aunts and uncles are gone. Many cousins. too. And friends. And a husband. Plus teachers. Punched holes in my card have left a whole lot of blanks. There shouldn’t be much glossy space left to apply that hole puncher and squeeze down. Wrong.

Remember that movie from way back when, the 30s or 40s with Loretta Young, David Niven and Cary Grant. Cary was an angel. Loretta was the preacher’s wife. The preacher was Niven. There’s a scene in that movie with a bottle of wine which refills due to the angel’s presence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not religious. I don’t follow scriptures. I don’t have the gift of “faith”—none of that. Yet, I like the idea of angels. I like to think the punched holes, the blanks, aren’t really blanks at all. I like to think they’re all still here/there—they’ve just gone transparent, see-through—if you know what I mean.

Beyond the idea of transparent angels, there’s the reality of other folks filling the gaps. New friends. New family as grandkids arrive in this world. New people to hold me and allow me to hold them. This punch card, for all the hits it takes, doesn’t get weaker, doesn’t become a tatter of once-shiny cardstock, doesn’t fold, doesn’t tear, doesn’t shred into bits.

To be sure—this life is a little dog-eared at the corners. I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I looked brand new, what would that say? Answer: The holder of this card hasn’t lived, hasn’t been hurt, hasn’t felt the sting of a bee nor watched a swarm of butterflies take over a thistle bush at the creek, hasn’t fallen off a go-cart and ripped a scar to her leg she still rubs with memories every now and again, hasn’t loved hard and been loved tenderly, hasn’t waltzed across Texas and into Arkansas, hasn’t been stepped on, hasn’t stubbed a toe—because she never made a move, never opened a gate or a door to find what might be on the other side. Yep. I’ll take dog-eared any day of the year. And I do.

If I line up my angels—pick them one by one from my brain as if picking up paper dots the hole punch has clipped from life—and interrogate each one as I examine its presence on my fingertip, what will they have to say?

Will Daddy break his shy silence? No. He’ll beam with that ruddy glow–his way of showing pleasure.

Will Mama turn her eyes away? She might. She never quite knew what to make of me, never quite understood what made me tick, yet, she was nonetheless sinfully proud of everything I did from first baby-step right on through to the end.

And Al? What of my late husband?

Each time I try to examine what my fingertip holds, his dot slips away. Honestly, I can’t explain it, can’t say if it’s me causing him to slip—or him—unwilling to be questioned. I could trouble myself about this, throw the blame of whatever it is going on in my thinking (or not going on as the case may be) over my shoulder like a sack of heavy laundry and tote it around throughout the day. Or I can let it go. No need to peel his dot from my finger. He’s already slipped away, silently, not skulking—just slipped away, shoulders straight, head high, what might be a smile about to happen, about to play in his eyes, curl the ends of his moustache, find his lips, change his unreadable face.

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Rooms of Light

We walked after dark.  Above, against the night sky of central Rosarito, streetlamps shone with bright spheres of illumination, cast circular rooms of light over the asphalt, rooms our shadows moved through, pooling for a step, then stretching behind us.  It comes to me these are like phases of living—what we approach, what we leave behind.  Those cowboys and Indians of childhood, the parenting games where we learned the ropes as our children grew into adults, are still learning, fed by new generations, next first steps, new rooms of yellow-cast light, the cycles of growth and dimming.

Two blocks.  Three.  Yaqui Taco is closed.  Four blocks, five.  El Gerente is also dark.  No perrones con todo tonight.  We turned west toward the main boulevard.  Now the light of storefronts sent our shadows to walk side-by-side with us; my German friend sometimes forgot he was not in Europe, the Americas underfoot.  Not in Germany with friends, father, brother, or sister.  A vendor with a cardboard box full of beaded bracelets balanced on her head smiled.  A tooth rimmed with gold picked up the glow of streetlights.  Gracias, no.  No, gracias.

A block south, Pueblo Plaza.  Cactus in rooftop planters.  Claws clicking against terra cotta, the thin cats of day prowling night’s roof tiles.  Courtyard wooden tables held candles under wine bottles with the bottoms cut out.  Calm flames phosphorescent through the green-tinted glass.  Bark of Mio, Yasumin’s ginger-colored lhasa apso with his little red-banded topknot of hair.  A ripple of hugs, kissed cheeks.  Yes, Yasumin’s sushi restaurant still served.  We ordered California rolls, ceviche rolls, bamboo saki, asked Yasumin the Japanese for Salud, toasted with Kampai!

That was last night.  When the rooms of light we moved through became one room.  Where asking for mas wasabi was as natural as my friend sharing stories in German I could not comprehend.  When all languages seemed equal and laughter brought understanding without comprehension of separate words.  Light was suffused, tinged like the air is at harvest time.  Motes of meaning floating in tiny, unseen arcs and spirals, places and phases, familiar as family, and yet not quite the same.  Shadows forming new shapes to pool, pause, diminish as we move.

Loco Moon

                          ~ San Felipe, 1989

On the Sea of Cortez, the moon makes
wrinkles in the flat bronze, glosses wide
slips with milk flats and ribbons, that
dreamed (half awake in years fuzzy
with dawns, midnights, dusks) go
quiet: no slide of foam tides lapping in,
tonguing out; no coyotes crying above
dunes where Baja mesquite grows
through cars without windows or answers
or doors.  Footfalls do not crunch sand
on the night.  I dressed in a shirt of white
soft as bandages and long as a wound. 
Silence so vast in the beaches of sleep
where we step and halos surround
our running feet, where we fall and the lips
of ribbons and milk sooth our thighs while
a stranger’s smooth tides, without a word,
writes: You are alive, you are alive. 
Umber is everywhere in gradations moving
the loco moon to ripple dunes and stipple
Cortez’s Sea with spray where a star
extends one leg into the shallow horizon.
My small bean of life cracks, the stem
of something forgotten finds the night
and snaps, tender with chaos and aware. 
I remember his name, Michael;
he fought fires in San Diego and was
engaged.  We made angels in October’s
sand under a moon too crazy with tequila
to care about the cupped hands of a star
holding us above what was coming
and already passed.  Stripped cars house
their lizards, give skeletal shade once the moon’s
spilt too thin for day to spell it, and colors
squeeze over even the dispossessed.

 .

[after Philip Levine, “My Sister’s Voice”, The Simple Truth]

To Nicholas Doiron Macaluso in the Pre-World of Beginning

Still night, the stars begin to turn, waver
as if in friendly departure from dawn’s approach.

Our vision outdistances Time – I see signs
of radiance perhaps gone.  And yet, we scatter

wishes in words through the galaxy, pinpointing one,
often not the brightest, but that seems to be ours,

specifically tuned to receive our dreams.  I see you
before light knows your face or Time has swept breath

you’ve exhaled into the room to move through memories.
The whole of you is warm and the warmth of you is whole

in a red world of muffled music and voices, the beat
of your heart echoed by the beat of your mother’s.  It is

late July and in six weeks time small acorns, now green and bright,
will grow brown and hold a lovely low shine by day.  At night,

if the moon is right, a patina starshine may slide among them and summer
owls hoo-hoo the stillness that is never truly still.   And you

will enter our lives, as if you haven’t always been there, since
life began.  You see, sometimes I believe we are a world within

worlds happening over and over again.  I see my grandmothers inside
their mothers’ wombs, and me inside mine, and rings of life, generations

like ripples within ripples, like rain drops, intermittent on a green lake.
The circles go out to meet other circles and the water of life

goes on.  I see you now in a world colored pink, day
penetrating your mother’s skin to light up the lessening space

where you once floated with such ease.  And I see you with me
and the sky is pink and we drink lemonade at a table in the shade.

I see you finding a first blackbird in the sky, the first crow,
the first feel of prickly grass on bare feet.

What will we speak of when we talk?  The heat in the color
of red bougainvillea?  The sun as a morning star?

Whatever words come, will come.  There are zoos
and elephants to meet.  There are parrots

who may learn to say our names, sea glass to gather
from sands left behind by low tides, kites to build and fly. 

Dawn opens again, mid-summer honest as it warms
the young acorns, and from six hundred miles

north, I see you turn inside your mother.  She moves
a hand there, to that place where some part of you stretches

and all is pink light and well in your world and all is
pink light and well in mine, Nicholas.  All is well in mine.

 [After reading “To Ernesto Trejo in the Other World”  Christopher Buckley, Sky]