DREAMING AUTUMN

Autumn is the ending time when the clutter from the year’s activities settles and a stepping back naturally occurs. It is a time of preparation for silence and stillness, a time when warm blankets are shaken out and short pants put away. It is a time to hang herbs overhead on strings and grind spices for small jars. It is a time to gather wood and chop kindling; to buy cider and harvest pumpkins; to find boots in crowded closets. It is a time to gather seeds for spring gardens, to dig out bulbs and put them to rest in dark cellars.

The fading light rouses my unconscious from its summer slumbers and like a great blind beast it rises, stretching its cramped limbs, and struggling for expression. In autumn’s cool starry nights, I dream fantastic dreams in which the living and the dead again dance in long gowns in underground palaces.

I dream of Mimi the Cat and cannot discover where she has hidden herself, then finally find her laughing under the stairs with Roxanne. I see the mother standing in the doorway looking at me with needy eyes while the old father, gone now more than fifty years, smiles and waves.

I smell the sharp scent of burning leaves and turning see my children dressed for Halloween, eyes bright and expectant. I reach out, wanting just one more time to hold their childhood selves but they slip, with laughter, through my arms and I am left with fingers twined in fog.

When I wake, like the fairy princess, I wonder where I have been and why my shoes are worn. Autumn is the dreaming time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, when we can leave our bodies and journey in our minds. It is the time when the distinctions are blurred and past and present merge. It is the time to make peace and ask forgiveness, to lie back and be willing to receive, the time to contemplate endings and surrender.

(pictured: Moonrise 2004 by Marie Taylor)

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OLD CAT WITH KIND EYES

Old cat with kind eyes

Sleeping on my bed

Are you dreaming of birdy days

When you leapt and twirled ballerina-like;

When you prowled backyards and swung through cherry trees?

Old cat with kind eyes

Looking out the rainy window

Did you catch all the mice

And drink all the cream you desired?

Did you fight all the Toms who raised their tails and howled?

Old cat with kind eyes

Did you sleep in enough sun beams

On the autumn afternoons;

Did you purr as often as you could?

Old cat with kind eyes what will you leave behind?

Empty laps and window sills.

TERMINAL SENSIBILITY

This place, this city where deals go down on street corners

while overhead, pilots cast cloud nets into the sky,

harvesting freeways and office buildings and tree-lined streets

with swimming pools that are nailed like turquoise studs into the ground.

 

In the supermarket terminals old women

on their journey to home towns that wait for their return,

sit in hard rows and reflect on the children’s children

they have mid-wifed into life.

A crone gives into her desire to tell about the golden man

who stood at the end of the bed and made the cancer disappear

while she walked through the valley in the shadow of death

and prayed not to want but she did.

And now she says to do it all in 96-year old vibrations

that were forged when women wore high breasts and long skirts

and played croquet on lawns on a Sunday afternoon.

“because you never know when the day will come,” she says,“ so do it all.”

The lady with the walker, one step at a time,

makes her way to the ticket counter

and passes the young woman from Reno

who sits beside the man from LA

who sells gum by the truckload

when he isn’t making time with a small town girl

who has been made too friendly

by the blue skies that dome her days.

She tells about her mother who rides a Harley

and is looking for a man who will run her up mountains

as she circles his tattoos with silver ringed fingers

for the duration of the ride.

Laying on her side on the floor,

a blond girl waits for her ship to come in

while the white haired lady with a cane

discusses the politics of wealth with the Italian-loafered gentleman.

Eating chocolate yogurt the gypsy with the briefcase

scans the board for the New York bound

and the man in the Panama hat sits quietly

and reads the life and death of Hemmingway.

Students cluster on the floor

and proclaim in heroic tones

how they will change the world

when it is their turn to be in charge.

The fat woman with the horizontal stripes

lumbers through the crowd looking for a seat.

A terminal exhibition, travelers all,

waiting impatiently for their number to be called.

While overhead strangers eat small bags of honey roasted nuts

as they compare sales territories and organizational charts

then look out of oval windows

as runways reach up and grab the wheels.

At touch down passengers pull heavy suitcases

filled with karma from overhead bins,

stand crouched over cell phones

and wait for their turn to file slowly

down the aisle past flight attendants

who smile with sweet insincerity

and welcome you to Los Angeles.

This place, this city where deals go down on street corners.

 

REINCARNATION?

How Is It?

How is it that the flash of your mind

on mine that day we met made electric currents

run through my eyes and I see in yours

the darkening plain which you traveled

while I waited  beside a silent shore for a boat

that never returned as you sat drinking tea

under a Jerusalemsky with heavy armored boots

and silver swords laid in green velvet?

 

How is it that you look at me

and I see your smooth brow like a wall

behind which generals bend over tabled maps

preparing for a siege, and your dense dark eyes

hooded with hawk feathers watching movement

along the front lines, and your soft mouth

smiling as you discuss kings and ransoms

on a dark Arabian mare against a desert sky?

 

How is it that you arrive unannounced

into my heart so that I cannot judge

the worthiness of your suit and receive your gifts

from the sea, for you were not who I thought

you would be this time and the spark that traveled

from mind to mind was not matched

by a physical recollection,

but none the less it was you and it was I.

 

How is it you say,

“We are as different as night and day,

as black and white,

and nothing it is that we share,

from the color of our hair,

to the language of our fathers,

to our generational tribe, is the same.”

 

How is it I say to you,

“Take away these incidentals and see.”

 

Do you understand?

 

(1996 – a glimpse into memory)

TRAIN WHISTLE

Train whistle

calls me

back.

 

 

We had our first real rain of the autumn last night and this morning as I sit on the patio breathing in the cool, wet California air I hear in the distance a train whistle calling. I’ve heard that whistle before, as a child, sitting at the window of my bedroom, looking out at the valley below, where lines of trains laden down with ore huff and puff in and out of the mills where the fathers and sons and brothers of Hephaestus feed the blazing furnaces that turn iron into steel.

I remember the golden autumns of those golden days in Pennsylvania when green, green woods would be burnished by the sun into burgundy and orange and yellow and red. I hear the crisp crunch of fallen leaves raked into high piles in resting gardens and smell the smoky perfume of mother’s fire.

Autumn is the burning time of the year when summer days are put to the match and the ground cleared to receive the coming snows. It is a time for saying goodbye, of endings, a time to unpack woolen blankets from cedar chests and put snow tires on cars. Autumn is the time for summing up, tying loose ends, closing books, gathering seeds, preparing for long sleeps.

Vistas of blazing chrysanthemums defiantly standing in early frosts, pumpkins  now exposed among the vines waiting to be summoned, tomatoes lined up on window sills to ripen, the last rose of summer in a final burst of life laying red against the white wooden wall, the chattering squirrel silent now in a frenzy of nut gathering.

“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye,” the train whistle calls again and I think of all the places I have been and all of the places I will never go. I look out of my reverie, nose pressed against the glass and think of all the years that have slid by so silently like landscapes glimpsed from the window of a moving train.

Who is it who is moving? The train or I? Am I leaving or have I been left behind?

 

 

 

THE GRACE OF GOD

There has been a topic running through my head since moving back to Sacramento. Because it is a ‘real’ city, Sacramento has a full range of people and lifestyles. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are all on view.

Everyday I see men and women in wheelchairs – some missing a leg, others carrying an extra 100 or 200 pounds in weight – rolling down the side walk to their destinations. I see elderly ladies loaded down with grocery bags and young mothers pushing prams waiting for the city bus. I see a blind man with a white cane tapping his way across the street and I gasp.

There are military vets at the intersections with signs saying “will work for food” or “everybody needs help sometime.” There are overturned trash cans along the sidewalks and walls with graffiti staking out territories. There is the background wail of ambulances and police cars, and silent alley ways are littered with broken syringes and cardboard boxes.

In the clean, quiet and middle class, suburban neighborhoods I have frequently lived in, all unpleasantness is hidden away, along with the cemeteries, halfway houses and methadone clinics. These neighborhoods have the resources to hide their imperfections from the common view, and are reminded to be charitable by walk-a-thons and occasional money-raising appeals.

But when the less fortunate are not included in the communal photo, all suffer. Those in need do not receive the help and attention they require, and those who are temporarily blessed lose an opportunity to learn gratitude and compassion. For if life teaches us anything, it is that it is a cyclic and this Wheel of Fortune is constantly turning.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike which means that forces greater than our personal desires, affirmations and actions have the power to change the course of our lives. Today’s socialite can become tomorrow’s drug addict; today’s athlete can tomorrow be struggling with cancer; today’s suburban family can tomorrow be living in a car.

When I was younger, two close friends and I used to believe that as soon as this or that crisis was over, every thing will be okay. We didn’t realize at that time that nothing is constant – the good or the bad. We kept waiting – and waiting – for things to stablize. But when one part of our lives would get better, some other area would disintegrate.

Eventually, and reluctantly, I learned to appreciate the present rather than yearn for some better time in the future. Once you give up hope, everything becomes clearer. So today when I drive the city streets and see those less fortunate than I am, I feel compassion – not in an ‘I’m better or luckier than they’ sort of way, but as a recognition that we are all part of the human family not matter what our faces, histories, or circumstances.

I now carry a handful of dollar bills in the car and when I see someone carrying a sign and asking for help, I no longer ‘think’ about whether I should give, or whether he looks ‘honest’ or how he will spend the money. These dollar bills are not mine but simply passing through my hands to other destinations. So I roll down the window and pass one through. In every single instance, the recipient has always said, “Thank you and God bless you,” and I have felt that blessing –  whether it was sincerely meant or  not is not my concern.

And when I pass people in wheelchairs or old women struggling, or street people stumbling, I mentally say, “God bless you,” and feel that blessing in myself. So who is it who has given, and who is it who has received?