Afterlife

the world has ended
this is the afterlife

birds here
and  people
speak so many languages

the silence that
sits above
this thin layer of air
is infinite and
louder than wind

i expected angels
in the afterlife
cherubim
saraphim
or, if i’ve been wrong
lakes of fire

but no

the winged things here are
dragonflies
hummingbirds
parakeets
moths

and lakes lie like
broken pieces of sky

The Universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For

I would like to say something meaningful at a time like this, with our world locked down and life suspended, but those are tall orders. What is meaningful? I could describe my daily experience to you, the peacefulness of my days and my nights. I am among the lucky ones, at this moment. I know that. Luck can change on a dime—I know that, too.

I am in familiar territory. I am the mapmaker of this place we are. I was exploring its contours before you all arrived.

There are ways in which what has happened in the rest of the world has thrown it, en mass, into my reality–the reality of grief. Not in every way, but in some ways. Now you have all had the rug yanked out from under you. Now your world has been shaken to pieces, too. Now you are discovering what I meant two years ago when I wrote about sitting and listening to silence, trying to take it all in. When I wrote about the vertigo of having no solid reference points. The waiting.

Welcome to the planet called Loss. Welcome to the solar system called I Did Everything Right But Everything Still Turned Out Wrong. Welcome to the galaxy called All You Can Do Is Wait. It’s in the universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For. The tour will begin in 10 minutes.

What are we waiting for? We don’t know. Whatever comes next.
When will it get here? Someday. Some other day that is not today.
Are we going to like it? Maybe. Maybe not.
Do we get our old life back? I won’t. We’ll find out if you do.

Life, again, has proved right this belief of mine that no matter what it is that you think is going to happen, the thing that actually happens will be something else. Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Realize that what comes will not be what you expected or prepared for. Breathe. Wait. Learn to walk barefoot over rocks, bake bread, and sleep with the windows open. You wouldn’t believe how useful these things can be.

Meaningful? Perhaps not.

But, true.

On this planet, The Past and The Future are separate islands in a sea so vast you cannot see one from the other.

Lettuce Soup

I don’t know. Whatever the question is, that’s my answer. At least I’m honest. 

The things I do know aren’t the answers to anything in particular.

The Tower of Babel

I think of the Tower of Babel. (If you missed Sunday School that Sunday, click here.) Before we all went into lock-down, we as a human species were one thing, invincible. Now we’re all in our corners–sent to our rooms, so to speak. This is different than the Tower of Babel story, because in the Bible story their languages were scrambled so they couldn’t talk to each other. We can still talk to each other. We talk too much, repeating things we heard someone else say, getting into heated disagreements in/over little black letters on a screen. The divisions are in place. It’s Babel. Different, but the same.

“They” closed the borders of the countries of the world. I live in a town that functions 100% on tourism. We don’t have any other industry. We don’t have any other way of earning our daily bread. We (not me personally at this time, but the citizens of the place I live) are hungry.

The streets are quiet. I remember 25 years ago when this quiet was normal. It was The Thing, not the absence of a thing. But it was different, then. There were more trees and fewer empty buildings. I love the quiet. I love the stillness. Finally something that is true is revealed from beneath something that was artificial. Does that make sense? To me, it does.

We fear crime. Stores, closed until further notice, have been emptied by their owners. Naked mannequins stand in shop windows. Restaurants are dark as caves, emptied of tables and chairs. Where has all the furniture gone?

I forgot there were this many monkeys. The hillsides are full of their voices just before dawn. They are everywhere. I thought they were gone–a thinning, endangered population that human activity was slowly extinguishing. Not even. There is nothing wrong with the monkeys. They just didn’t like us is all. Sometimes I’m not sure I like us.

Parrots. Have you ever listened to them? On a morning with no buses, no construction noise, no music from restaurants trying to attract foot traffic. I sometimes laugh at their jokes even though I don’t understand the words.

The ocean. It doesn’t need us. We sigh and suffer for it. We need it on our skin. We dream of it at night. And there it is, luminous, rising, falling, breathing its salty warm breath into the world, cleaner and more crystalline than ever. It isn’t one bit sad.

“When Things Get Back to Normal”

Nothing is ever going to be the same after this. I don’t think “things” are going to go back to being “like they were.” I could be wrong–let’s just take that as a given no matter what I say. We talk about, “after this is over,” and of course it will be over. Everything ends. But maybe we should drop the phrase “when things get back to normal.” Am I the only one who foresees a new normal?

I might know something about new normals.

Having the world implode into lockdown and watching society melt isn’t entirely dissimilar to the experience of having my husband become sick and die. It isn’t the same, but one is reminiscent of the other. Both things happened suddenly. Both things yank the rug out from under you. Both things cause you to have to rethink ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING about your life. Both things destroy what was and leave you with god-only-knows-what afterward. Both things are surrounded by a lot of silence. Both of them involve waking up each morning and having to remember how “now” is different from “then” before you know how to live.

Remember how I confessed to walking and running on the beach with my eyes closed, trying to see with my skin and my ears? Now I can do it on my bike in the street. In little spurts, early or late. More than ever, being able to sense what is around me without being able to see it feels like a critical skill.

Lettuce Soup

What’s around me/us that I cannot see?

I’m told there’s a virus–literally “your death of a cold.” I can’t see it. Should I be afraid of the air?

There is hunger around me. I can feel that. In the empty streets, I see friends who wave and smile. I also see strange people that I never seen before–people who eye me in a way I don’t like. In a house a few miles from here a few nights ago 4 people were shot. It sounds drug-related–somebody owed the wrong person too much money or something. I’m not afraid of being shot in the night. I’m not afraid of being hungry. I was also not afraid the government would shut the borders and that the restaurant owners would find it prudent to take home the tables and chairs. But they have.

Some people–people I know–are looking at the worst days of their lives. I am not. Not yet. Things have to be much different than this before they compare to the worst day of my life. I’ve been poor before. I’ve been hungry. I don’t talk about it much. Once, I made lettuce soup for my stepdaughter and pretended it was delicious (it wasn’t bad, really) because it was the only thing we had. I am a long long way from preparing lettuce soup for a hungry child who depends on me.

Something is Happening

Where am I? What is going on?

I love the silence. No cars. No buses. No dump trucks. No cement mixers. No music from bars. Nothing. I might be obsessed with it. I feel a sort of jealousy regarding it–it is mine and you cannot have it. I don’t want anyone or anything to touch it. A noisy motorcycle drove by this morning and I held my breath. It interrupted the locusts and the wind I was listening to. For a moment it drowned out the sound of the sea and it was like not knowing where I was.

I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I loved things the way they were. I was happy, then. But something has happened. Something is happening. Do you feel it? Things can be different. Better. Can’t they? If there is more than one way to be, can we be another way now that we’ve had this pause. Like children redirected after a time out?

Listen…  

Is that the sound of the meek inheriting the earth?

Superpower / Duty

I’ve been thinking about humans, as a species.

We seem to be undergoing a species-wide crisis while all the other things on the planet are doing fine. Better, in fact, since our carbon footprint suddenly shrank several shoe sizes.

Some people say this is Mother Earth putting us back in our place. I don’t know. Maybe. Nature does this to all of her species once in a while–I don’t assume it’s anything personal. We’d like to think we get special treatment, but we don’t really.

I go to the beach to breathe in the sky and search for my sanity, and I find myself wondering: what does the planet even need us for? Besides building glass and concrete cities to cover the land and sucking fossil fuels out of the earth only to dump them into the sky, what can we do that other species can’t? Even an elephant can paint a picture.

So?

I know what the earth needs buffalo for: to trim and fertilize the plains. It needs birds and monkeys to spread seeds that keep the jungles growing. Wolves cull the smaller mammals in the mountains. Hawks and foxes keep the mice population down. But people? Would there be too much of anything without us?

I don’t know. Not that I can think of. So what is our thing? We must have one.

And then I thought of one thing–one thing humans can do that other species can’t–not dogs, crocodiles, guanacaste trees, blue whales, daffodils, kitty-cats, boa constrictors, or bougainvillea.

We can appreciate aesthetic beauty.

Plants and animals are capable of appreciation–I have no doubt about that–but I don’t think they appreciate the beauty of a sunset or a brilliant rainbow. My cat laying under the hibiscus bush appreciates the shade and the cool ground, but he doesn’t care about the flowers. The dogs playing with coconuts on the beach love the game but they aren’t sighing over the colors in the clouds. A rose bush likes bees I’m sure, but it doesn’t appreciate how beautiful a butterfly is.

People can do that. It might be our superpower. It might be our duty.

I feel compelled to state these observations as I watch our species struggle in an identity crisis brought on by something so small as to be invisible. Other species can love. Other species can help each other. Other species can build and create. But are we the only ones who can give value to something simply for its aesthetic beauty? I think we are.

And?

And, I don’t know. Is appreciating beauty going to save my life or yours if it comes down to that? I don’t see how. But there are a lot of things I don’t know, a lot of things I cannot conceive of in my little mind. I’ve got no health claims to make (unless we’re talking about mental health?); I just think this would be a great time to find something beautiful and appreciate the heck out of it. Go ahead: a cloud, a flower, a person, an animal, music, a work of art…

I’m joining you. It can’t hurt. Never underestimate the power of things you don’t understand and don’t even necessarily believe.

Unexpectedly Iridescent / Inesperadamente Iridescente

i am free
to inhabit all of my skin
to pulse this blood into
every capillary
i own

you are free
to see me in
whichever color you choose

call me an angel
a liar
a lion
a stone

like a blue morph, i
am at home among orchids and ferns
invisible at rest
unexpectedly iridescent in motion


soy libre
de habitar toda mi piel
de pulsar esta sangre hacia
cada capilar que
me pertenece

tu eres libre
de verme en
cualquier color que elijas

llámame ángel
mentirosa
leona
piedra

como un morfo azul, mi
lugar es entre orquídeas y helechos
soy invisible en reposo
inesperadamente iridiscente en movimiento