Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lost and Found

In August, as the days grow hotter and the fields turn paler and my pitbull joyously falls to his back in the long weeds, wriggling and sounding like a dolphin, huge emoting, moans of joy--as the days of August come to an end the dust on the roads grow thicker, it seems the more desperate or broken find their way to my stairs or my door or perhaps my heart.

"There's a...girl, passed out by the steps" said my partner to me one evening as the heat baked from the stones and the sun began a slow slide in the west. "you should check on her" he said, not wanting to startle or alarm a young woman.

And he's right, a mild middle aged or aging woman is far less alarming, surely.

So I went to the foot of my steps, and yes, there was a girl. She lay in the gutter, curled on her side. Her hair was in short rastas, covered with dust. Her bare legs were folded to her stomach. Her long, tan hands bore a couple very worn silver rings. She wore a very short shift, which once may have had flowers patterned on it but had been worn and washed so often the flowers were simply memories. Her feet were stuck in old tennis shoes with holes, several sizes too big.
Her long eyelashes made faint shadows on her cheeks; her lips were pale and gently curved.

I stood there a moment, looking down at her. Yes, she was breathing. Fairly evenly. "Sweetie" I said, using the endearment that comes so quickly to my tongue, the one my children, I fear, hate, "sweetie, are you okay?"

I asked a few times. My partner came and stood beside me. A sherrif's car passed by. "We could take her to the emergency room" said my partner. But I said, "We'd have to wake her first, and if this is an overdose they'd probably send her to jail instead". Unfortunately, we've had experience like that.

I kept murmuring to her.

"You'll have to shake her" said my partner. "I don't want to scare her" said I. But then I knelt beside her and put my hand on her thin, bare shoulder, still talking. Her temperature seemed pretty normal. I took her pulse...yeah, steady, firm.

She moaned and spat, twice, still sleeping, her head pillowed on a rock. "This is not a good place to sleep" said I, hand on her shoulder. "Have you taken something? Can you speak to me?"

And then the guy with the brindle pitbull came up. "She shouldn't have been drinking so much in the sun" said he.

"Athena, wake up!"

And she opened her hazy blue eyes. And swore. And said "why did you wake me? Now I'm hungry, and I don't have anything to eat".

So we got them both some food, and the dog as well, and the guy said he'd get her to her camp.

But late that night I saw her again, wandering the road in her thin shift, eyes glazed. I've looked for her since. If she's 16 I'd be surprised, this thin and beautiful wanderer. I've got to get a better grasp of where the new ones are, where the camps are, how the children are.

When they are sleeping at your stairs, well, you wonder.

The young couple who came by the next day were in better shape, but they'd been crying, and they had two puppies much too young to be away from their mom. Brutally hot days then. The little pups were limp and dehydrated. We talked a long while, got them food--all of them, yes, of course the little dogs too--thought out strategies, heard their stories. They've been back a few times now, and each time the pups look better. Yesterday they were playing and romping and Champ my pitbull--who had seemed woefully concerned at the first meeting, nudging them and whimpering--finally gave up and gave me a glance of disgust and went into another room to escape their bouncing and pouncing.

What did you call them? I asked. The one in the black collar is Mocha; the one in the purple collar is named...Athena.

Okay, fine. I do inhabit a realm of coincidence.

Today's first customer stood in the store talking to himself quite a while. I kept typing. I talk to myself sometimes; it's not very alarming. I figured if he wanted to talk to me he could, but meanwhile, fine, talk to the bookshelves and the dog and the air, that's okay.

After a while he came and said "I do want something". I waited. "Do you have any borscht?"
I said unfortunately I did not, though borscht is very good. "Then,maybe, do you have squash baked slow with honey?" Again, sadly, I could not provide. "But I do have fruit and bread" I said, and offered him some.

He stared at an apple.

No, others have been here, I can feel them, he said.

Well, yes, this is a bookstore, we have a lot of people come through.

So maybe, said he, you have what I am looking for. I lost it so long ago. It is a box with three parts, and in it are roses and feathers. And there's a gold frame around it, like wheat, and there are pictures of everything that matters. And there are maple keys spinning over the surface of it, and when you have it you are okay again.

No, I said, that sounds so beautiful, but I do not have it here.

Someone is mistreating it, said he. And he went to pick up my broom.

Oh, I understand, said he. You are a witch. I see your broom. And your cat. And your dog. But I think you are okay.

I think so, I said.

He looked at a few more books, and brought me one on mythology. Here, he said, look.

Athena and her owls.

(the photo of Palas Atenea now at the Louvre, was taken by someone calling her or himself purolipan. Amazing lighting)

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

I've seen fire and I've seen rain

There was a day in the bell tower of the old campus building in which we let the mome raths out. And there was much mimsey.

We were celebrating Lewis Carroll's birthday, and decided the balloons, bright creatures, would do well for mome raths. Oh, we were whimsical. There was cake.

Those days we celebrated anything at the drop of a hat or the baking of a cake. I fed the bluejays from the far up window and skipped classes to write poems on the window sill. I fell in love. I fell out of love. I edited a literary magazine and triumphantly rejected the poetry of a professor who'd rejected my work.

Oh, I was not always nice then.

But she and I, we had fun, as our paths crossed. She was majoring in a science, and I was an English major, but she appreciated the odd, and I embraced her very tender sensibilities.

There were parties at her apartment and walks in the rain and adventures in which we fed 200 from a woodfire and she filmed me playing with the orphans, my long hair streaming, blowing soap bubbles.

As if soap bubbles and dancing might save the world. Many years later she wrote that she still had that film, with me as the soul of the California girl, and had shown it to her new husband, trying to explain the time.

I don't know if she mentioned the mome raths. Maybe she did.

So the decades went on. She was very successful in the scientific and academic world, and probably adored by her students. When she met and fell in love with her husband, when she married him, and they combined their household dogs, her notes to me were less frequent, but brimming with delight.

And now and then there'd be an email, out of nowhere, a bit of humor or a pretty thought.

So when I got an email from her today, I was happy and mystified. The subject line was her name, which seemed odd, but you just never know.

I opened it. It said "You are receiving this because you were on her contact list; she died suddenly on Thursday..."

I stopped reading for a moment.

The rest of the email was full of details on the coming service.

How did that song go...

Yeah, something about "but I always thought I'd see you one more time again"