Come sow a garden, a voice said in the morning; plant as if you were designing another Eden after the first one burned. The next one shriveled in pestilence, and the ones after that, too numerous to count, grew nothing but moss and headstones. I am tired of digging tunnels and hauling red-stained stones— I want to lie down and sob for the last time among a profusion of white clover. I want there to be nothing for miles but a haze of yellow rockets, butterweed, canola; and from the hills, regard a sea cleansed of dark cargo and spilled oil. I want for us to get up, covered in nothing more than the gold- warm scent of the first true evening after war. We'll feed each other simple things like water and bread and salt. No one will startle at the sound of pealing bells.
This country, I think— like the plot we want to clear of weeds and overgrowth, the kinds that would choke the life out of anything good and green we tuck and fold into the soil. In the streets now, soldiers with bayonets. Riot of storefronts and blasted ATMs— the doing of those with no respect for the industry of bodies bent down to the earth, even as they've taken the haloed harvests; nor for the love which kept us going despite lashes and chains and burns. Last night, hard up to summon some stronger stirring of faith in my heart, my beloved turned to me and said, I don’t have time anymore. Meaning, here I am, grown old; how could we not hold what we carry with nothing but gentleness.
Our friend Charles gave us this Kalanchoe, which now has shot up in its brown ceramic pot like a Christmas tree a-dangle with plantlets along each leaf's margin. Round as drops of paint, smaller by more than half the size of a pea, they let down their roots wherever they drop off into surrounding soil. Propagate is the word that's used to describe such a process—every tiny life needing to be spread like truth into the new wilderness of our burning cities.
Have you ever had to stand up or kneel for what you believed in, or weigh in a single instant the consequence of staring down the barrel of a gun Have you ever been the one to knock on a door, bringing a message regretting to inform And have you ever been the one who opened to the sudden clamor at night or in the middle of the day already knowing from glimpsing through a window the pair of sombre dark-clothed messengers Could any of such moments be recompensed erased or forgotten in the detritus of time Could time go any slower or any faster than the way it does
My father stood in front of the sink in the bathroom he shared with my mother. The color of the tiny floor tiles was green; and the color of the tiles on the walls, an old mustard yellow. Looking down, unseen, from the second floor window of the house we built next door that my children and I lived in, I could swear it was almost the same color as his skin. He took his time, my father: he took off the watch on his wrist and folded the cuffs of the daytime shirt he wore under an old cardigan. He was going to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash, spit with effort: all movements slower now that the rest of him was testing the currents of this new sea his doctors referred to as The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning, at noon, and again at night for the faltering heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation with the idea of time not yet knighted by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked, the future would lose no time unseating us from the surface where we tried to hold our ground.
I haven't learned yet to take for granted how I'm here instead of somewhere else. Should a raised voice say You! I've learned not to flinch too visibly though I always fear I'm the one being addressed. One weekend many years ago after I'd just got here, two coworkers knocked on the door and asked if I'd like to go out. I looked at them confused and said I was working, which I was. After they left I wondered if I should have. Sometimes it's easier to keep to ourselves or out of the way if not out of sight.
When we moved to this part of the country, some of the first kababayans we met sounded concerned we'd found an apartment in Norfolk, and not in Virginia Beach. Perhaps they meant well, even when they said things like You should move as soon as you can so you don't have to live in the ghetto, where there are a lot of blacks. Then there are those who caution their daughters and sons when they begin to date: Anyone really of any race, except yellow or black. So it shouldn’t have been surprising to hear those same daughters and sons say Our parents are not like those Filipinos on the west coast or in Hawaii— they came here as professionals. Perhaps they don’t know what they’re saying; perhaps they can't hear what those words really mean, having been raised in a culture of skin bleaching products where white is held up as right, and the fair-skinned mestizo will always get the office or the acting job over the dark- skinned ones who look like maids or peasants: hampas-lupa, those who crawl like worms along the earth— mud-dwellers, clay compared to the haughty figures whose marble floors and shoes they buff until they shine and won’t acknowledge that the brown reflections they see every day in the mirror are their own.
Oliver bends over the terra-cotta pot
to address a growing herb: Good morning,
Basil; what did you dream of last night?
He is at the age when it is nothing
but natural to talk to everything
in the world as if it is his best friend.
Shoelaces, pebbles picked up on walks,
a soccer ball, his no-pedal push
bike; twigs and moss his mother
lays out as a path in the fairy garden
they’re building. I’m certain
if a plant could talk it would tell him
stories rich with compost and soil;
it would tell him of that dream
we call photosynthesis, in which
the leaf makes energy out of light
and returns it to the world as breathing.
(For Oliver, of course)
At night or in the early hours before morning, someone must have measured and marked with neon colored tape, sections on the grocery store floor or drugstore or food takeout line. And arrows: for pointing out in good faith the direction of all movement, keeping a six foot distance to make each citizen a kind of compass point for the next in queue and all who follow after. Wouldn't it be if not easier then at least more bearable, if our movements were such as they are among planets and stars? Though they look closer to the naked eye, the nearest ones are billions of light years away. Clouds of particles coughed up when two or more stars smash into each other might vaporize as energy; but no matter what other effect might result, it's certain that all bodies are changed forever after collision.
At night, instead of a prayer, I recite quietly and mostly to myself all the words for tomorrow I still remember. I think about how I now dislike the word pivot, but still believe in the liquid space between one moment and the next. What do you call the twin eyes the dressmaker sews atop and above the zipper, where the wire hook waits to finish the garment's drape around and to the back, at the nape? One time, as a child, I held up a hand mirror in front of my face to see its surface fog like a lake when mist has not yet risen. I liked that experiment, and the one where you lay a needle gently on water then wait so it points north.