Join Me in the Lake

Heat of summer, forever-long afternoons
of sun bearing down almost violently
have turned the lake into a warm bath.
Dark comes and this is the place to which we drive.

Four of us share this night, now a tepid oven.
Our group walks, laughing, along two edges:
where city park meets lapping water, and
where youth rushes too soon into adulthood.

The sky is black, the distant hills flicker
with neighbors’ white house lights, and
somewhere nearby is the whir of the freeway.
I do not think we can be seen

and so I remove my clothes
and wade in, up to my small naked belly
at which point I turn back to see you
still standing on the shore.

Someday when you are free enough to
revel in a night swim, then I will know,
though I will not at first say it aloud,
that I have seen myself in someone else.

(March 2, 2019)

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Seasons and Voices

What is winter?
Maybe like me
the unbloomed flowers
are unsure of what to say.
Do they sit within themselves
waiting to speak
holding their pollen tongues
wondering what might be best?

Is spring then a conversation?
It does sound that way when
we ramble through the canyon,
as if all the natural world
is chatting, unabashedly
dreaming ideas out loud
among friends
and to itself.

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Button Daisies

Once I dreamed about a
downhill, quiet country road with
a pickup lazily parked on the side,
flanked by modest houses
and sided by aging fir trees.

One day while walking beyond
the church fields, I came to
such a road and realized
it had not been a dream, but
a partially-there memory
of something real from
many years earlier.

How strange to recognize
places we do not remember.
Places we’ve not thought of for years
suddenly exude history, home.

***

In my mind I picture button daisies
I am very young, picking them
one-by-one
from a sloping patch of grass
wondering how I might intertwine
their stems into a bracelet.

My family is nearby. Was there water?
I think I spy shoreline.
A building to my right is
remembered as a castle, but
given the tricks the mind plays
it was likely not so grandiose
(not a bad thing, to remember
the past as better than it was)

I must ask Mom about this memory
twenty-something years in the past
Where did it take place?
Are the daisies still there?

There are many things to ask, to know
before time runs out.

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Harriett’s Nest

The backyard hummingbirds have been fighting lately and I’ve been sitting under the honeysuckle listening to their mating wars rage on. It’s surprising how maddened animals become as they follow the drive to reproduce.

Among the hummingbirds are an assortment of others who inhabit the nearby trees and sky. In the summer the mockingbird keeps everyone up at inopportune hours of the night, and a flock of out-of-place parakeets circles around the house once or twice a year (perhaps more often, but I do not constantly stand on the front stoop watching for their green wings to come into view). A hawk hunts in the canyon two blocks away; I have seen him resting on the lower railings of the wooden bridge, have been startled as he swooped in front of me mid-day and have photographed him in the branches of the eucalyptus tree.

Doves and pigeons, the common and dull kind but I feel a liking for them anyway, line up on telephone wires year-round. They look most striking with their silhouettes outlined against morning fog, which from my front door that looks out to the bay I can see approaching as early as the night before it rolls in (it is the foggy mornings and sunless marine layer days that most facilitate my writing; at these times I feel closest to myself).

There is an owl that silently haunts the night, who I have seen only twice in three years and who is so without sound, so fleeting, I could have just as easily imagined him. Yesterday a gull drifted above our roof.

There are, finally, many small birds who live here and, in looking enough like each other, are often disregarded given many people’s preference for hawks and herons and greater birds. Often, perching birds (as naturalists call them) are grouped together in our minds as the uncelebrated “birds in the yard” because truly what difference does it make if they are a finch or a nuthatch or a wren? To most of us, like air they are simply there and like breathing they simply happen.

But not Harriett, a small bird of what species I do not know, but in one season of her life (and mine) managed to add to my melancholy and then, after she was gone she unknowingly (because of course, she is a bird) lent me hope.

I will begin by saying that at some point Harriett died, or so I assume because one day she stopped coming back. She had spent several days collecting twigs for her nest which I know because I walked out onto my stoop last year and caught her in the process of it all. I had told this news of a new nesting bird to my family (it was my sister who named her Harriett) and friends who don’t mind such trivial life updates, and for a while we waited for babies.

But Harriett disappeared and babies never came, and at the end of her nesting season I had only that…a nest. An empty house of sticks in the corner of the beams above my door. And not too long after, when the summer garden ended and the lettuce had bolted and become no good and the tomatoes turned brown and barren there suddenly wasn’t much life at all outside my door, and the fall and winter were no better.

Spring came late and quietly this year and I put off gardening and considered skipping it altogether, for what reason I can’t quite say because I certainly had the time, but I recall wondering what is the point as we do to ourselves here and there when melancholy, while beautiful in small doses, grows too big and becomes too heavy to carry. It is hard to move under such weight.

At such points we can actively seek help, or we can let time do what it does: pass and heal. Through that winter I had chosen to lie submissive and dormant while the days moved by me. During those months of long nights, time roughly stitched me back together in places that had come apart. It was not a perfect fix, and by spring it was not enough to inspire a garden, but it was enough to keep going. Sometimes this is all we can ask for. To want to wake up: this alone is worth our quiet gratitude.

Then, hope: I stood at the door this past week and looked up to see tail-feathers sticking out over the edge of the beams. When I moved closer she flew to a nearby tree and watched and waited for me to go so she could return to her adopted nest – the one Harriett left behind, still unused. So it seems that, despite an unusually long and numb winter, we have been given another chance at eggs becoming baby birds and seeds becoming gardens and life beginning again.

(first written April 25, 2018; revised for ColetteKay.com)

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How to Write Better

In the morning do not play music,
there are birds to do this for you.
Wind circles outside the window
and inside the small dog can
be heard breathing, in, out.

Make your bed if you like,
but consider it likely that
stacks of gently used books
will serve as enough decor
if it is a writer’s spirit you have.

The feet and the ground were
made to touch; during walks
stand planted in the grass.
Greet the earth, sliding petals
between thumb and finger

and when it comes time to eat
forgo prepping to spoon the
avocado into your mouth, do
no more than peel the orange.

Go without, give it away,
make room, and then
make more room.

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Nurse Logs

The forest knows about rebirth.
New life grows on fallen trees
one story deteriorating as
another sees first light, reborn
from what has been left behind

I waited once to be a nurse log
and imagine others have, too,
to take what can no longer be
useful, and from our remains
spring up anew and live again

How long does it take?
How quickly can this grow?
Hurry, forest, hurry.
We long to see you
with young eyes.

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The Noiseless Spring

Atop the wooden bridge to the path below,
an observation on a gray day during
this final month of winter:

The sloping canyon takes sanctuary under new grass
dewy at mid-morning when I’d first left the house.
This time yearly each blade reaches tall as it will,
and what now? Summer is not yet here to dry us.
Do the fields know what they wait for?

On the hillsides deeply pigmented, circular leaves
posing as lily pads out of water, herded together
under dozing afternoon’s dull-white sky are waiting
until a time hundreds will bloom orange, red, alive.
I whisper to the nasturtiums, “not yet”

knowing once they are born, days are
limited. They will again lie dormant,
receding to safety of roots by summer,
hermetic the months between rains.
I mourn each loss of flowers, but

until these moments come to pass
it is this earliest promise of aliveness,
canyons that sit still as morning,
the noiseless coming of spring
that I love most of all.

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