Saturday, May 21, 2005

His son was eight months old

He came in looking for books in Arabic, or maybe something on Anwar Sadat. We had no Arabic, but I found him a book on Sadat, and we started to talk. He was visiting friends in the area, thinking of moving here, starting a small business. He has a convenience store in Sacramento, downtown, in the hood. Didn't think a convenience store would do well here, in our town of 1400 people, and I told him he was probably right. He was born in Egypt, his father Egyptian, his mother from Scotland, and came to the US as a 17 year old some 12 years ago. "I want a better life for my son" he told me, and showed me a photo of the baby, 8 months old, named Aly (not, he said, Ali). He'd had a hard time growing up in Egypt, Muslim at a Catholic school, half "white" amongst the full Egyptians. They made fun of his light skin, his light hair. But his father was a general, his uncle a chemical engineer. We talked about the Koran, about Israel, about having children and how quickly they grow up. "These wars, they are terrible" he said. I agreed, and wished him well. In Sacramento, after 9/11, customers came to his store and yelled at him. "They call me sandnigger. They call me towel head. But I am quiet." His bright eyed son stared up at me from the photograph. "I'm sorry, " I said. "Oh, it is nothing" said he. And he told me that recently scientists found the stars made sounds, like knock, knock, knock. He showed me patterns, knocking on a bookshelf. In the Koran, he said, it talks of the knocking stars. For centuries the wise people didn't know what this meant--but now! How can you say this is not true? I smiled in a certain delight, and wished him well as he went out into the sunlight.

Friday, May 20, 2005

he came in from the street

He was carrying his boxes of stones and wood with him, and asked if I could look at his new work for a little while. He's an artist, wandering the roads, carving bits of wood and pieces of stone, making up stories to go with them, trying to find his way. He has a daughter, almost 3, given up for adoption by her mother. He shows me her photos--she seems happy, well cared for, loved. She is feeding ducks. She is running, a silly grin on her face. "I love her so much, " he says. Sometimes it tears his heart out.
The carved stones have figures flowing into each other: a mother, a bird, a rattlesnake, a tree. Everything is connected. He's been spending a lot of time in the woods of late, and then a lot of time on the town streets. Up north the city has been rousting the homeless. I tell him of a recent court decision, which said the guy who was arrested for sleeping on the street should not have been charged with anything. The guy had claimed a necessity defence: he had to sleep; he had nowhere to go. Cool! says my artist friend. He's going north to test the waters.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

a break in the storms

He posted an online ad, searching for a new mate. She lived in a firewatch place, and was drawn to his love of puns. I saw him yesterday, as I went for coffee. Up and down, he said, and mostly down. Teens, and the girlfriend. He wants her to come down from the tower, move into the town, be his domestic babe. I can understand her reluctance, I said. And the rain kept falling.
Today, a break. I went out to the asphalt parking lot , to weed the flowerbeds. When we moved the store here, to this rough location, our friends were aghast. What will you do about the junkies? What will you do about the trash. We said we'd give the junkies books. We'd pick up the trash.
And I planted trees and flowers, in three long strips. Pomegranate, liquidambar, chitalpa, willows. Tree mallow with pink flowers, roses, love in a mist, cornflowers, sweetpeas, coreopsis, geraniums, rosemary, lavender. And a frill or two of petunias.
The junkies brought packets of seeds. The drunks helped me weed. Friends brought cuttings, fertilizer. A birch tree sprang up along the building, bird planted. Three peach trees have grown from seed, and bear fruit.
I always meant to live in a garden.

outside the windows

outside the windows

The woman who came in wanted books on weaving baskets, or on native plants. We had neither, but directed her to the Native American section, where she thumbed through the classics. Her friend stayed in the car. She called for him to come see what she had found, and then one of those odd times at the bookstore clicked into gear. We sat with the pitbull between us, and he told me of the death of his son, his depression. He said he was a step away from "ending it all". I listened to his story and he picked up my large print Bible, reading aloud the verse to which he had turned--something about not being given over to death, but to life. He made a list of things he had to do--eat, sleep, make plans, have faith.
There's something about this place, he said. She said "yes, lots of books". He said, no, something else. I smiled, we shook hands as he left. Be well, my friend, I said. Yes, he said, I'm staying around now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

starting at the very begining

It is Khalid's fault. For months I have avoided the blog realm. Pen and paper, little notebooks, letters on real paper sent with real stamps. But then, through Riverbend, through Khalid...hey, you said it was simple. I have no idea. But I am willing to try it out, gazing out the windows, onto the street, in the pouring spring rain.